The lives of many working people have been drastically altered over the past few years by COVID, skyrocketing inflation, and now rising interest rates. And although Social Security recipients might not need to clock in to receive their checks, it is also affecting some of them. This is due to the various schemes used by crooks to defraud seniors of their Social Security benefits.
Scammers are taking advantage of the widespread anxiety and uncertainty in the economy to prey on senior persons and are working harder than ever to access their primary source of income.
Here are three well-known Social Security frauds and what you should look out for. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has called attention to some of the frauds listed below, which are some of the most recent. These frauds are only a small portion of the vast array of COVID-related frauds already in existence.
1. A fake letter threatening benefits suspension
Many seniors worry that they won’t receive their benefits when economic turmoil strikes. Attacking Social Security beneficiaries with a letter warning that their payments will be stopped or permanently discontinued until they contact a phone number provided in the letter, criminals capitalize on this anxiety.
Scammers phone unwary seniors and attempt to get their personal information or persuade them to send money—in the form of cash, wire transfers, or retail gift cards—in order to maintain their benefits.
Seniors will still be able to receive their checks even if a local Social Security office closes. According to the SSA website, “Any communication you get that claims Social Security will do so is a fraud, whether you receive it by letter, text, email, or phone call.”
Furthermore, if seniors don’t pay up, Social Security won’t threaten them with a suspension of their benefits, an arrest, or legal action. Additionally, it won’t demand money in exchange for better benefits.
2. Phone calls requesting a Social Security number in order to activate Medicare
In this scam, con artists may call elderly victims and say they need to activate or replace their Medicare cards and need to know their Social Security number as well as other sensitive details like their date of birth. Due to the possibility for fraud with Medicare, they might also ask for your Medicare number.
Leslie Tayne, the managing partner of Tayne Law Group in Melville, New York, argues that fraudsters can still cause harm when given a Medicare number, even if Social Security numbers were taken off of Medicare cards in 2019. These numbers may be used to fill out prescriptions, submit bogus insurance claims, or even be sold to other criminals on the dark web.
According to Tayne, “some fraudsters may offer to ‘upgrade’ a victim’s paper benefits card to a plastic one for a price, which doesn’t exist,” while also taking [their] credit card information.
3. False SMS messages informing you that your Social Security number is malfunctioning
Criminals have been sending texts that purport to be from the Social Security Administration in another recent scam. The scam texts instruct the recipient to phone back to a hoax number in order to avoid future legal issues while claiming that there is a problem with their Social Security number.
Fraudsters try to cajole personal and financial information from the victim when seniors call the number, and they may even demand money to fix the purported issue.
Never will Social Security text you and ask you to call a random number. In actuality, the software will only get in touch with you under specific circumstances, like when you’ve signed up for text messaging or when you attempt to log into your account online to confirm your identity.
As usual, earned income, not one-time payments you’ve made, determines a person’s eligibility for Social Security retirement benefits.
How to defend yourself
Being wary of anyone who represents themselves as from Social Security, claims there is a problem, or requests any kind of personal information is the first step in thwarting scammers.
According to Jordan Sowhangar, CFP and wealth advisor at Girard in Souderton, Pennsylvania, “Unfortunately some of these scams will look real at first, and unless you know that they are actually occurring, you might easily fall prey to them.”
Ask inquiries if you’re having trouble discerning whether the call is legitimate. Ask questions rather than providing any information over the phone, advises Sowhangar. The likelihood that a con artist will give up on a con increases with the number of questions you ask.
Mark Ruchie, chief information security officer at Entrust Datacard, advises customers to hang up and call a company directly if they have any doubts about its authenticity.
However, according to Tayne, seniors can even behave more proactively before that.
She says that screening incoming calls is the best precaution seniors can take to keep themselves safe. “Add contacts to your home or mobile phone, or ask a loved one to do it for you.”
Seniors must exercise caution, adds Ruchie. “Verify the origin of new emails and texts, and consider your actions before clicking on any links or attachments. Do the links go to reputable websites like SSA.gov or IRS.gov? When you click on a new link, make sure the website has a legitimate owner by clicking on the padlock in the address bar and the certificate. These are fundamental best practices that everyone ought to adhere to.
A Social Security scam’s telltale signs
Consumers who are vigilant should be on the alert for the telltale symptoms of a con artist. Scammers typically try to elicit an emotional response so that you act without thinking, coaxing you to divulge sensitive information that can later be exploited to deceive you.
- Threatening language: Scammers aim to frighten you into acting before your better judgment takes over. Threats could include being imprisoned or having access to Social Security or Medicare revoked.
- Fraudsters may use accusatory language to stir up your emotions by claiming that there has been criminal activity on your account.
- Payment demand: It’s a fraud if someone contacts you claiming to be from Social Security and requests payment right away.
- Confidentiality: If a phone call demands confidentiality, it is a scam.
- Text messages: Texts instructing you to call an unidentified number are bogus. Unless you’ve chosen to get SMS from Social Security, you won’t receive any.
- Phishing emails: These emails may resemble the actual thing in appearance, but their purpose is to trick you into clicking a link that leads to a fake Social Security website. When you arrive, you will be prompted for personal data. No private information is requested in official Social Security communications.
- Additional requests for personal information: Scammers may come up with fresh schemes to scam people or they may rely on tried-and-true ones like snail mail. In either case, they’re after your personal information, so take caution whenever you get an unsolicited call or email that claims to be from Social Security.
The best way to report a Social Security fraud
You have to take further specific actions after that. The Social Security Administration (SSA) recommends you to end such calls and report them right away to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). To report the scam, you can also phone the government organization at 1-800-269-0271. You can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) if you’ve been a victim of identity theft.
According to the OIG website, you must give as much information about your interaction with the con artist as you can, including the “who, what, when, where, how, and why.”
Tell your family and acquaintances about the scam so they can be on the watch for it. A scam’s chance of being discovered and reported increases with the number of people who report it.
To sum up
Senior citizens, who are already a particular target for many scammers, are made more vulnerable by rising prices and economic uncertainty. However, a few sensible measures and vigilance can help halt many of the scams before they begin, making America’s senior citizens a little bit safer.