From the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
By Erin Scheithe – FEB 18, 2020
In July, we reported on a rise in scam attempts where Social Security beneficiaries were being asked to pay to reactivate, protect, or restore their benefits. Currently, Social Security scams are the most commonly reported type of fraud and scam, and according to the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), these scams continue to evolve. The OIG is now warning the public that scammers are making phone calls and then following up with emails containing falsified documents aimed at convincing people to pay.
You may have received one of these calls – either a recorded voice or a person falsely claiming to be a government employee, warning you of an issue with your Social Security number, account, or benefits, including identity theft. The caller may threaten arrest or other legal action, or they may offer to increase benefits, protect your assets, or resolve identity theft if you provide payment using a retail gift card, cash, wire transfer, internet currency such as Bitcoin, or a pre-paid debit card.
How to tell if it’s legitimate or a scam
Scammers are aware that people are catching on to their attempts, so they’re coming up with new ways to convince Social Security beneficiaries that their frauds are legitimate. Here’s what to watch for so you can protect yourself and others from Social Security scams.
1. Threatening arrest or legal action: If you receive a threatening phone call claiming that there‘s an issue with your Social Security number or benefits, it’s a scam. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will never threaten you with arrest or other legal action if you don’t immediately pay a fine or fee.
2. Emails or texts with personally identifiable information: If there’s a legitimate problem with your Social Security number or record, the SSA will mail you a letter to notify you of any issues.
3. Misspellings and grammar mistakes: If the caller follows up with emails containing falsified letters or reports that appear to be from the SSA or SSA’s OIG, look closely. The letters may use government "jargon" or letterhead that appears official in order to help convince victims, but they may also contain misspellings and grammar mistakes.
4. Requests for payment by gift or pre-paid card, cash, or wire transfer: If you do need to submit payments to the SSA, the agency will mail a letter with payment instructions and options through U.S. mail. You should never pay a government fee or fine using retail gift cards, cash, internet currency, wire transfers, or pre-paid debit cards. Scammers ask for payment this way because it’s difficult to trace and recover.
5. Offers to increase benefits in exchange for payment: Similarly, SSA employees will never promise to increase your Social Security benefits, or offer other assistance, in exchange for payment.
How to report a scam
If you think you’ve been the victim of a Social Security scam, report it immediately to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at FTC.gov/complaint and to the SSA Office of Inspector General Fraud at oig.ssa.gov.
Protect others by spreading the word
We’ve worked with the SSA and FTC to create a fraud prevention placemat to help you recognize and prevent Social Security scams. You can order free copies of the placemat, both in English and Spanish, to use at a meal site or to share with friends and family.
Because Social Security scams are increasingly common – even more common than IRS scams – it’s important to help educate others and raise awareness of these evolving tactics and how to identify and report scam attempts.