Any of the hundreds of scams around today can make you feel like we live in a world gone mad. How cruel can someone be to con a poor victim out of thousands of dollars?
But one of the most heartless scams making the rounds is the one targeting the elderly who depend on Social Security benefits for basic living needs. When these victims are tricked out of their benefits or their accounts are emptied, they may be left with no resources at all.
Worse yet, scammers are fully aware that the elderly make for easy victims. Many older Americans are from a bygone era in which anyone on the phone could be trusted. They haven’t grown up in a society that knows to constantly look over their shoulders and to cover their keypads when punching in a PIN. The elderly can be naïve and trusting, and it is this endearing naivety that can make them fall prey to scams.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning of a recent surge in Social Security scams which, unfortunately, are often successful.
Here’s how these scams work:
The victim receives a phone call from an alleged Social Security employee telling them their benefits have been suspended and must be reactivated. The caller claims the suspension is due to suspicious account activity or that it happened because of a computer glitch. To lift the suspension, the scammer says, the victim must share their personal information, including full legal name, phone number, Social Security number and financial account information.
Alternatively, the victim will receive an automated voice message instructing them to call a specific number to correct a problem with their Social Security benefits. Upon calling the given phone number, the victim is asked to provide their personal information.
In yet another version of this Social Security scam, the victim receives an email that looks like it came from the Social Security Administration (SSA). The email will include a link asking the victim to update their personal information, giving a similar backstory as above.
If you receive Social Security benefits, or you know someone else who does, protect yourself and your loved ones by reviewing and educating others about these tips:
The Social Security Administration will never call about suspended benefits
There’s no reason to believe a caller who claims your benefits have been suspended. First, Social Security benefits don’t get suspended because of computer glitches. Second, the SSA will not call you to request your personal information out the blue. Government agencies rarely make phone calls to private citizens. When they do, the citizen will always know to expect that call.
Never share personal information via unsecured means
Don’t trust just anyone. It’s best not to share personal information over the phone or the internet. If you must, verify that you are interacting with the party you believe you’ve reached. The best way to do so is by contacting the SSA yourself at 1-800-772-1213. Remember, con artists are experts at looking and sounding like genuine government officials. Don’t fall for their tricks.
Report all scam attempts
Help combat these scams by reporting any attempts made to con you out of your personal information.
If you receive a phone call or an email from an alleged SSA employee requesting information, don’t respond. Instead, call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), or call your local Social Security office and ask if there is actually a problem with your benefits. If, as is likely, there is no problem and you’re being scammed, the SSA will be better equipped to stop the scammers from conning more victims.
You can also call the Office of Inspector General (OIG) at 1-866-501-2101 or complete a Public Fraud Reporting form at the OIG website at socialsecurity.gov.
Finally, report the scam attempt to the FTC at ftc.gov.
Tell your friends and family
Fight back by doing your own part to stop those scammers. Tell anyone you know who receives Social Security benefits about these scams and warn them not to share their information on the phone and online.
Let’s keep our money safe and send those scammers packing!
Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a Social Security scam? Share your story with us in the comments.