Every so often here on the AgingOptions blog we remind readers of the many ways in which scammers and con artists are out to steal your identity and your money. Social Security fraud seems particularly reprehensible to us, targeting seniors who are society’s most vulnerable victims. Today we offer two articles for your consideration, one from the AARP website and one from the Washington Post, updating us on the sneaky ways in which these fraudsters operate, and suggesting some good ways to protect yourself from their schemes.
Social Security Fraud: The Goal is to Steal Your Identity and Your Benefits
“Social Security numbers are the skeleton key to identity theft,” warns this article from the AARP’s online Fraud Resource Center. “And what better way to get someone’s Social Security number than by pretending to be from Social Security?” Thousands of times each day seniors are getting bogus phone calls, often “robocalls,” from someone claiming to represent the Social Security Administration. AARP calls this “a common form of government impostor scam, in which fraudsters pose as government officials to get you to send money or give up personal and financial data for use in identity theft.” They claim to be trying to help you, but their real goal is to “wangle personal information, steal benefits or both.”
These Social Security-targeted calls seemed to surge late last year, according to the Federal Trade Commission, and they continue to top the FTC’s list of most common fraud complaints. Check out this recent article from the FTC website. It shows that, during the first five months of 2019 alone, almost 65,000 Social Security-related fraud attempts were reported to the government watchdog agency. “Since 2014, the FTC has gotten nearly 1.3 million reports about government imposters,” the article reports. “That’s far more than any other type of fraud reported in the same timeframe. This spring, monthly reports of government imposter scams reached the highest levels we have on record.” Reported losses to these government-scam artists since 2014 are estimated at $450 million, with the highest losses being experienced by the oldest victims (those 80 and older) – estimated at a median loss of $2,700.
Social Security Fraud Typically Starts with a Phone Call – and Anyone Can Be Targeted
Here’s how the AARP describes one Social Security scam. “Fake SSA employees [call] people with warnings that their Social Security numbers had been linked to criminal activity and suspended. The caller asks you to confirm your number so he or she can reactivate it or issue you a new one, for a fee.” This is totally fraudulent: Social Security will never block or suspend numbers, or use a phone call to alert you to an issue with your account. Sometimes a robocall provides a phone number for you to call to “remedy” the problem. Don’t fall for it!
Sometimes the scammers use a “positive” approach. Says AARP, “You might get a call from a supposed SSA representative bearing good news – say, a cost-of-living increase in your benefits. To get the extra money, you just have to verify your name, date of birth and Social Security number. Armed with those identifiers, scammers can effectively hijack your account, asking SSA to change the address, phone number and direct deposit information on your record and thus diverting your benefits.” Some people report receiving emails that appear to be from SSA linking victims to a fake government website: click the link and the scammers can steal your information.
Social Security Fraud: Make Sure You Have a My Social Security Account
Social Security fraud can happen to anyone. As we were researching this article we read this recent Washington Post column by Robert Samuelson that tells what happened to him. “I got hacked,” he writes. “It was scary.” According to Samuelson, who is 73, he was first alerted to an actual problem with his Social Security account by an authentic letter, thanking him for “using Social Security’s online services” and verifying that, on June 28, 2019, he had “successfully created an online account with the Social Security Administration.” The only problem: he never created such an online account. Somebody had hacked into his record and altered his personal data so that his monthly benefit would be diverted to someone else’s bank account.
“I decided to call the 800 number in the letter,” he writes. “The wait was about an hour. I was repeatedly tempted to hang up. I’m glad I didn’t. The woman who answered was courteous and helpful.” After confirming that the unauthorized change had been made, she reinstated the correct address and put a “block” on the account, preventing his data from being altered without an in-person visit to a Social Security office. In Samuelson’s case, he doesn’t know how thieves obtained his Social Security number, but setting up an online account is one important safeguard every beneficiary should put in place.
Some Tips to Prevent Social Security Fraud
“With a little vigilance, Social Security scams are not difficult to identify and avoid,” says AARP. Here are a few suggestions from them and from the FTC website:
- Hang up immediately if a caller claims to be from Social Security, or uses some impressive-sounding title like “the Inspector General.” The same applies to callers pretending to represent the IRS.
- “Be suspicious of any call from a government agency asking for money or information,” says the FTC. “Government agencies don’t call you with threats, or promises of – or demands for – money. Scammers do.”
- Go to the Social Security website and create an online account – then check it frequently for signs of anything unusual.
- Don’t call a phone number left on your voice mail by a robocaller, or trust caller ID.
- Never give your Social Security number by phone or email. The Social Security Administration will never request information that way.
- Never pay with a gift card or wire transfer. If someone tells you to pay this way, it’s a scam.
- When in doubt, call the real government office using the phone number from their website and find out if they’re trying to reach you – and why. You’ll be on hold for a while, but it’s worth it.
For Protection and Planning, Preparation is Power
The goal is not to be fearful, but to be informed. The same is true when it comes to retirement planning: preparation is power, and we want to help you be prepared to enjoy a secure and fruitful retirement in which financial, medical, legal, housing and family considerations are all working together interdependently. For the ideal introduction to our revolutionary approach to planning for your future, we invite you to join Rajiv Nagaich from AgingOptions for an upcoming LifePlanning Seminar. The only cost is a few hours of your time, but we predict you’ll be very glad you came! Get a complete seminar schedule and register for the date and time of your choice here on our Live Events page. We’ll look forward to seeing you. Age on!