How the social security scam has emerged as the #1 fraud in the country
Summary: A scam that first showed up in 2013 is using phone calls, emails, and direct mail to attempt to defraud Americans with the claim that they represent the Social Security Administration. These messages are often threatening and ask for both personal information and payment because of alleged suspicious activity related to your social security number, or because it’s been involved in a crime. What’s unfortunate is that thousands of people have fallen for these scams and the average loss is $1,500 according to the FTC and the Social Security Administration. That’s 4 times the loss of any other fraud.
Please note: If the social security scammers are in possession of your personal information, identity theft may occur. How do scams lead to identity theft?
How does it work?
Inbound phone calls
What to do if SSA scammer calls?
Signs of a social security scam
Scam via email
Direct mail scams
How to know if you’ve been scammed?
What to do if you’ve been scammed?
Social Security scam blacklist
How does the social security scam work
Social Security scammers typically use phone calls to initiate the scam. Quite often these are robocalls. It’s a recording that informs you of a problem related to your social security number. Here’s an example:
The robocalls always ask you to call a number that they usually repeat twice. Don’t do it. If you receive one of these calls ignore it, hang up and block the number.
To block a number on your smartphone, go to your phone screen and look at the bottom of the screen and hit the “Recents” button. A list of phone numbers will show up. Find the number of the scammer and look to the right of the screen next to the number. You’ll see the letter “i” in a circle. Hit the “i” button and you’ll see the number displayed on the screen at the top. Scroll up with your finger which will take you to the bottom of the screen and you’ll see the words “Block this Caller” at the bottom of the screen. Hit that and the number is blocked.
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The second level of the SSA phone scam
Unfortunately, scammers will often use numerous numbers to implement this scam and they may call you back with more robocalls bypassing any blocked numbers. It’s also possible that an actual person will call you at some point and communicate similar cautions and threats. Here’s a verbatim example reported to the FTC:
“Yes, I am calling you because your social security number has been flagged as being misused several times which we feel are fraud charges. Has the police department been in contact with you?”
People have also reported the following threats to the Social Security Administration Inspector General:
I got a fraud alert call saying my Identity and social security number have been stolen and my bank account is compromised. They told me I need to put my money on a secured account.”
“They say my account has been deactivated and my benefits will be canceled immediately.”
“I received a call stating that my social security number was found to be used in Texas, for fraudulent and suspicious activity “
What to do if a scammer calls you
Hang up. If for some reason you have reason to think that the Social Security Administration may actually be trying to reach you, hang up and call the SSA directly at 1-800-772-1213. They will most likely tell you the call you received was a scam but in the rare event that there is a real issue, they’ll be able to help you resolve it.
But be forewarned
Many scammers engage in something called “spoofing.” This allows them to take the actual phone number of the Social Security Administration (1-800-772-1213) and cause it to appear on your caller ID. If you simply hit callback on this number, the scammers will redirect you to one of their locations and continue to pose as representatives of the SSA. Take the time to dial 1-800-772-1213 if you want to verify anything with the Social Security Administration. Don’t hit the callback button.
If for some reason you feel compelled to call a suspicious number, you should at least mark your number as “Unknown Caller” before making the call. This will prevent your phone number from showing up on their caller ID. To mark any outgoing call as originating from an unknown caller, hit *67 before making the call. Don’t give them any information and go ahead and satisfy your curiosity if you must, but at least don’t give them your phone number on their caller ID. Hit *67 first before calling.
Signs of an SSA phone scam
- The caller speaks broken English and uses awkward sentence construction and expressions.
- The caller is threatening.
- The caller wants you to verify the last 4 digits of your social security number. (Don’t do it!)
- The call just doesn’t seem to make sense.
- The caller really doesn’t seem to know much about you including your name. (Don’t tell them!)
According to a recent statement from Andrew Saul, Commissioner of Social Security, Social Security agents will never do any of the following:
- Tell you that your Social Security number has been suspended.
- Contact you to demand payment.
- Ask you for credit or debit card numbers or bank account numbers over the phone.
- Require a specific means of debt repayment, like a prepaid debit card, a retail gift card, virtual payments like Bitcoin or cash.
- Demand that you pay a Social Security debt without the ability to appeal the amount you owe.
- Promise a Social Security benefit approval, or increase, in exchange for information or money.
- Threaten you with arrest or deportation.
Agents acting on behalf of the SSA are professional, well-mannered, disciplined and very clear in their communication. It’s also very rare for them to directly contact anyone by phone although they do it more frequently with business-related matters than personal matters. And they’ll never ask you for your Social Security number. They know it.
A dedicated webpage has been established by the SSA to report a phone scam to the Social Security Administration.
And the SSA scam extends to email as well
SSA email scams follow a similar pattern as phone scams delivering threats and alarms related to suspicious or illegal activity related to your social security number. Quite often they will direct you to a site that looks identical or at least similar to the actual website for the Social Security Administration. It usually leads to a form asking you for information starting with your social security number, name, address and will often include requests for bank account numbers, your birth date, and as much information as they can collect to steal your identity or withdraw funds from your bank.
It’s called “phishing”
The phishing scam is an effort to get you to reveal personal and financial information about yourself and the email scams have demonstrated some of the more insidious efforts. One example actually promises to protect you from scams with a subject line that reads “Get Protected.”
It’s another scam that poses as the Social Security Administration with the promise to monitor your credit reports, unauthorized uses of your Social Security number and even cites official-sounding laws like the “S.A.F.E. Act 2015” designed to protect your Social Security account. It’s a lie and a total fabrication.
To complicate matters further, the emails often appear to not only look official but will have an address that says [email protected] The no-reply URL shows up often in emails from a variety of sources and seeing if from ssa.gov makes it seem authentic. The way they redirect you to their scam site is with an embedded sentence in the message that reads: To register, click here to get started. You’ll land on a page that looks authentic. It’s not.
If you receive any kind of email related to your Social Security account either go to your account that you have set up on the SSA website or call the SSA directly. Do not allow the email to direct you.
The COLA ruse
Every year the Social Security Administration announces a cost of living increase for Social Security payments. This is referred to as COLA. To determine your increase, you can go to your account you’ve setup on the SSA website and find out the exact amount of the annual increase. Unfortunately, scammers are just as anxious to promise you this information and will pretend to send you an email form Social Security with a convenient link to tell you all about it. As usual, they will require you to give them significant information including your username and password for your Social Security account. Here again, do not allow the email to direct you.
What to do if you receive an SSA scam email
To report a questionable email, do not click on any links, or open any attachments. Attachments are typically viruses that will infiltrate your hard-drive and collect as much information as it can find on your computer. Report any suspicious email to the FTC by forwarding the email to [email protected] If they appear to be impersonating a real company or organization, report it to that company or organization as well.
Register on the SSA website
The Social Security Administration has a secure website where you can establish an account and access all information related to your Social Security. It’s also where you can verify the status of your account if you are concerned that a scam call may have been a real call from the Social Security Administration. Here’s the SSA link for establishing an account at: ssa.gov/myaccount/. Protect the username and password for this account the same way you protect your Social Security number. If a scammer has your SSA account username and password, they have all of the information about you they need to steal your identity.
You should also report any scam attempts you receive to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.
You can and should also report any SSA scam attempts to the SSA Office of the Inspector General at 800-269-0271 or at oig.ssa.gov/report.
The SSA direct mail scam
The FTC also reports that people have received direct mail related to both their Social Security account and their Medicare accounts. Medicare is closely linked to Social Security and scammers will often try to receive medical services using someone’s Medicare card number.
Direct mail scams rarely ask you to return mail to a physical address. Those are too easy to track. The typical request is to call a phone number or access a website. The letter is always well designed and appears to be from either a company selling Medicare supplemental insurance or the SSA inquiring about activity related to your Social Security number or Medicare account.
The SSA “Security Check” scam
Another direct mail SSA scam is the promise of an extra security check to protect yourself from scammers. They also direct you to call a number or visit a website with questions asking you to list as much information as possible from your social security and Medicare card numbers and the promise of total protection including all of your bank accounts with a request for your account numbers.
Once again, do not call and do not visit the website. If you want to pursue supplement medical insurance, initiate the call or contact an insurance provider yourself and if you do a Google search for this information, make sure it is identified as the “Official site” for that company on your results page.
Who are the scammers?
It’s hard to say. The internet is a digital domain that spreads across the Earth to every country and smartphones reach out to everywhere. it’s almost impossible to accurately track digital transmissions because scammers use so many methods to direct and redirect their messaging from their point of origin. They could be contacting you from anywhere from a Nigerian digital café to an apartment building in Shang Hai to a basement in a house three doors down from where you live.
To complicate matters further, there is no legal jurisdiction across international boundaries, so scammers are left to operate fearlessly and without consequences. This is one of the biggest reasons the SSA scam has emerged as the most widespread fraud in the U.S.
How to determine if you have been scammed
If you fear you may have given information to a scammer there are some steps you should seriously consider taking. For one, try to verify if any fraudulent activity has happened in your name. Here are some of the activities indicating you are a victim of a scam:
- You see withdrawals from your bank account that you can’t explain.
- Debt collectors call you about debts that aren’t yours.
- Medical providers bill you for services you didn’t use.
- You don’t get your bills or other mail.
- Merchants refuse your checks.
- You find unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report.
- Your health plan rejects your legitimate medical claim because the records show you’ve reached your benefits limit.
- A health plan won’t cover you because your medical records show a condition you don’t have.
- The IRS notifies you that more than one tax return was filed in your name, or that you have income from an employer you don’t work for.
- You get a notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account.
Actions to take if you have been scammed
- Get a free credit report from annualcreditreport.com. They are affiliated with the 3 major credit reporting agencies.
- Consider placing a credit freeze on your name through the FTC. This makes it harder for anyone to open an account in your name. If you want to open a credit account in the future, you will have to take some extra steps to do so.
- Consider placing a fraud alert on your name. This is also done through the Federal Trade Commission.
- File your taxes early in the event that a scammer tries to file your taxes in your name and redirects any overpayment to a different address or bank account.
- Alert the Social Security Administration, the FTC and your local police.
- The Federal Trade Commission has just launched a new site specifically to help people who are victims of an SSA scam.
When will the social security scam end?
There is no sign of the SSA scam abating. Recent complaints to the FTC and the SSA indicate that it’s growing. It’s a sign of the digital times and given the inability of local laws to extend beyond international boundaries, there’s no way to effectively police or apprehend the perpetrators. The best solution is education and awareness of the activity. Here are some things to consider:
- Make sure everyone in your family knows about this scam and how it happens.
- Make doubly sure that anyone of your family or friends who are 62 or over and receiving Social Security payments, or are 65 and on Medicare, understand the signs and symptoms of this scam.
- If you think you’ve been scammed, consider an identity protection service. They charge a fee, but they will continually track and monitor fraudulent activity under your name and offer varying degrees of protection and compensation.
- If you receive any communication from the Social Security Administration that you’re not 100% sure about, contact them directly or go to your account page on the SSA website.
Scams are everywhere. The SSA scam is currently the most prominent one. The best defense is to trust your instincts and know that government agencies and personnel abide by a set of policies and procedures that are courteous, professional and consistent. If you receive any communication that seems to violate fundamental good behaviors and common-sense be forewarned -you may be on the receiving end of a scam.
Attention: Consumers who have been contacted by the social security scammers could have had their personal information breached. TotalScam!™ highly recommends that consumers whose information has been breached obtain identity theft protection service immediately.
There are several companies that offer identity theft protection in the US. One of the most inexpensive options we were able to find is the protection offered by LifeLock. You can start your protection here.
Disclaimer: The information and opinions contained on this site are not endorsed by LifeLock. TotalScam!™ receives compensation from LifeLock. This helps support our scam prevention efforts.
Fraudulent websites can be easily spotted by looking out for these 5 red flags. Learn about them by visiting the following this link: How to tell if the website is a scam in 5 steps.
Yes. If scammers are in possession of your personal information, they can use that to steal your identity. For more on this subject, please read: How scams lead to identity theft.
There are various ways in which scammers gain access to your personal information. One such way is by purchasing consumer data on the darknet. When a website is hacked, which happens quite often, hackers steal databases containing personal information and sell that to the highest bidder. This information is then used to steal identities, ruining lives in the process. For more on this subject, follow this link: How scams lead to identity theft.
It depends on the method of payment. For more on this subject, please read: How to recover your money if you’ve been scammed.
Most scam artists reside outside of the US and use threats to exact more money from their victims. Nevertheless, all threats should be taken seriously, especially if scammers have your name and address.
Social Security Scam Blacklist
The following phone numbers, websites, and emails have been reported to us by the consumer. If you feel this information is incorrect, you may submit a request for removal or correction by contacting us using this form.
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