Seniors Beware! Is It Social Security or Is It a Scam?

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Elderly Social Security recipients are easy prey for scammers, as headlines remind regularly. Whether through a sweet-talking individual who claims to be from the Social Security Administration or the response to an authentic-looking email that looks like it is from the Social Security Administration, once a scammer gets the beneficiary’s information, the trouble begins. With that information, a scammer can have a Social Security check re-routed to another bank account, open new bank and credit card accounts, take trips, make huge purchases, and so on, while the unsuspecting beneficiary knows nothing–until the bills start rolling in.

Telephone Scams

The most common con artists are the telephone scammers. Your Aunt Judy gets a call one day from someone who claims to be an employee of the Social Security Administration. The impersonator is charming, witty, and soon sweet talks Aunt Judy right of her Social Security number, birth date, credit card and bank account numbers.

In other popular ruses, the caller tells Aunt Judy the agency is experiencing a power outage or that the Social Security Administration computers are down and they have to verify her Social Security number, or the caller may explain they are issuing new Social Security cards and need to verify her information.

Or the scammer may ask Aunt Judy to participate in an over-the-phone survey. The well-trained scammer knows exactly how to get Aunt Judy caught up with the pitch and persuade her to pass on her Social Security number, the password to her online account, her birthday, and bank account numbers in order to process additional benefits she is entitled to for participating.

In similar cons, the savvy caller just tells Aunt Judy that the agency needs to update some information that’s on file. This particular ploy usually comes out in force in mid-October through early December to coincide with Medicare’s open enrollment period.

To make the scam easier and put Aunt Judy’s guard down a bit, a sophisticated scammer may lure your unsuspecting aunt with actual names, home addresses, and other personal information gleaned from Facebook or other social media sites. Using this kind of information makes pitches more credible.

Email, Text, Social Media, and Face-to-Face Scams

Scammers use all types of communication– email, text, social media messages, face-to-face–to lure your aunt into parting with personal information. For example, Aunt Judy receives an email with a logo that appears to be official from the Social Security Administration. The email directs Aunt Judy to click on a link in the bogus email to “update” personal information or to fill out a form in order to claim a new benefit. If you click on the link, you go to a fake version of the Social Security’s website. But to Aunt Judy, it appears legit, so she eagerly responds because it says it is from the “SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION” — the good guys.

Scammers are also texting pictures of real and doctored law enforcement credentials and badges to show they are with the Social Security Administration or other government agency. 

Then there are the smooth, personal—face-to-face—solicitations from somebody who rings the doorbell, claims to be a Social Security representative, and needs to corroborate your social security number, name, bank accounts to verify benefits, or your direct deposit information.

Tips to Thwart the Crooks

Knowledge is the best defense against scams. For starters, familiarize Aunt Judy with the more common widespread scams that prey on her and other seniors, and this would surely include scams that try to get her Social Security number, passwords and bank or credit and account information.

If she receives an unsolicited phone call from a business that she knows, suggest that Aunt Judy double check the caller. She should hang up and call the business at a known phone number rather than one provided by the caller.

If a stranger calls soliciting personal information, tell her to just hang up regardless of the caller ID. If the calls persist, tell Aunt Judy to talk with her local phone company about calling features that will enable her to be selective in the calls she receives.

If a visitor /stranger at the front door claims to be from Social Security, she should close the door quickly. If Aunt Judy is even a tiny bit persuaded that her visitors may be legitimate, tell her to call her local Social Security office or call Social Security toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213 to verify. Call the local police department if the visitor keeps pestering.

If Aunt Judy is the recipient of an email that appears to be from Social Security requesting personal information, disregard the message and do not click on the link, no matter how legitimate the email or link looks. Legitimate Social Security employees do not call or email or text to request information… much less repeatedly. Official correspondence from the Social Security Administration, such as earnings statements and estimated benefits, always comes by regular US Mail.

You might encourage Aunt Judy to share her experiences with the unusual phone calls, emails, or personal visits with her friends. The more others learn about her experiences, the more she can help head off similar trouble.

If You Take the Bait: Steps to Take if Your Social Security Number Has Been Compromised

If Aunt Judy has given personal information to strangers on the phone, strangers at the door, or strangers online, she should report the fraud to the Social Security Fraud Hotline at 1-800-269-0271 or file a report with the Federal Trade Commission.

In the interests of protecting its recipients, Social Security has taken an additional step to curb electronic access to an online Social Security account. Aunt Judy can ask Social Security to block electronic access to her online Social Security account on the Social Security Block Access page. If she elects this course of action, no one, including Aunt Judy, can get or change personal information online or through the automated telephone service. If Aunt Judy changes her mind, she will need to contact Social Security.

For more information on the tools Social Security uses to fight fraud, visit the Social Security Anti-Fraud Facts page.

This article has been updated October, 2023 since it originally was published November 2015.

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