The Social Security Administration’s (SS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) has issued some safety tips for Americans to help protect themselves from scams targeting their Social Security benefits. These are three tips from the OIG:
Understand the threats
Fraudsters use several forms of impersonation, advance fee, and phishing schemes. They might contact you and claim to be from SSA, the IRS, or another government agency and request your information. They might claim that you have won the lottery or become eligible for an investment if you pay an upfront fee. They might design emails or text messages that look legitimate and request your immediate response. Be aware of these types of schemes, so you can identify them and guard against them.
In general, no government agency or reputable company will solicit your personal information over the phone or by email, or request advance fees for services in the form of wire transfers or gift cards. Build a habit of verifying the identity of anyone who asks for your personal information over the phone, and say you will respond through the entity’s customer service channels. If anyone pressures you to provide information or money over the phone, just hang up.
Secure your information
Store your Social Security card in a secure location; avoid carrying it with you. Shred documents that list personal information such as your Social Security number and banking information. Avoid opening emails from unknown sources or clicking on suspicious hyperlinks. Equip your computing devices with strong anti-virus software and maintain strong passwords. Regularly check your credit reports for suspicious activity.
Social Security Scams
The safety tips are being issued in response to some ongoing schemes that the OIG recently issued warnings about.
In one case, individuals receive a recorded call that claims to be from the Social Security OIG saying that benefits have been suspended and directs the person receiving the call to contact a non-SSA phone number to fix the problem. When calling this number, the person is then told that there is a warrant out for his/her arrest which should be resolved by purchasing gift cards or pre-paid banking cards.
In another recently reported scam, an impersonator claiming to be an SSA employee calls and tells the victims that they are due a 1.7% COLA increase of their Social Security benefits. The victims are then told they need to verify all of their personal information such as name, date of birth, and Social Security numbers which is then used to request changes with the victims’ actual SSA accounts to presumably redirect the benefits to an alternate location to intercept the payments.
SSA’s OIG recently issued a report showing that the agency’s my Social Security program is prone to scams as well. A random sampling of data revealed that just over $6 million was pilfered from the program by being misdirected by thieves.
How to Report Scams
If you receive any communication, be it an email, letter, text or phone call, that claims to be from SSA or the OIG, you should contact your local Social Security office, or call Social Security’s toll-free customer service number at 1-800-772-1213, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, to verify its legitimacy.
Suspected fraud should be reported to the OIG.