Social Security Scams: How to Identify & Prevent Them
In an age of endless data where cyber space has become inseparable from daily life, fraudulent schemes have now crossed over into the digital realm. Several types of scams exist today, and among the most concerning is that of the Social Security scam.
What is a Social Security Scam?
One of the most common types of government imposter scams is that of the social security con. Fraudsters claim to be government officials in order to convince victims to send money, and or reveal PII (personally identifiable info), along with financial details.
Once a social security number is obtained, a victim’s identity can become a whole lot easier to compromise; suffering from identity theft-related activities, such as financial loss and credit score damage, is more likely, leading to great heartache and stress down the road.
How to Identify a Social Security Scam
The best way to spot Social Security scams is by arming yourself with up-to-date knowledge on what to expect. Here are some common red flags to consider when receiving potential scams, whether in the form of emails, calls, texts, social media messages, or even snail mail:
- Threatening/Pressuring Tone. We’ll get into the kinds of threats you may experience, but for now, if the contact you receive is in any way pushy or threatening, consider it a scam. Social Security Administration officials rarely contact you, and if they do, it’s via an official letter (payment options/appeal rights). You may also receive contact regarding the ‘My Social Security’ app (updates/notifications/login-related matters).
- SSN Suspension. The SSA will not suspend, freeze or revoke your social security number – and certainly not as a consequence of having not paid a government fine or fee right away.
- Arrest/Legal Action. Following on, the SSA will not threaten you with imminent legal action or arrest either.
- SSN/Private Info Requested. If you’re asked to provide your SSN, and or personal/financial details, don’t respond. Once again, you are not dealing with the SSA.
- Phishing Flaws. Just because an email seems to ring true – due to the inclusion of relevant jargon and official logos/graphics, etc – this is no reason to proceed without caution. With scams, there’s always a giveaway lurking somewhere. So scrutinize the sender’s address, plus the email body for vagueness, grammar/spelling mistakes. Remember, sneaky hyperlinks can lead to malicious, data-harvesting spoof SSA websites.
- Payment Required. Payments to the SSA involve official letters with instructions to pay through US mail. If you’re asked to settle a ‘government fine or fee’ via methods including cash, gift card, wire transfer or internet currency, hit delete/hang up.
How to Prevent Social Security Scams
Just because fraudsters’ scams are evolving, and therefore becoming harder to spot, doesn’t mean they’re unavoidable. Once you understand how criminals try to hoodwink potential victims, the makeup of a Social Security con becomes clearer. So, with that mind, here are several signs to watch out for:
- Listen to your Instincts. Scams can be pretty convincing at times, which is why its paramount that we listen to any niggling doubts and feelings of unease.
- Just Hang Up. If you’re dealing with a suspicious, unsolicited telephone call, don’t be afraid to hang up or end the conversation by saying you’re too busy to talk. Remember, the SSA will only call if you’ve already had prior contact.
- Pressure & Arrest Threats. We already covered this in more detail above, but one of the most overt elements of a scam is the use of threats and a ticking clock. Are you about to face legal action/arrest if you don’t provide payment/confidential info? It’s a very motivating, jarring thing to hear – but don’t be fooled. This is a bona fide scam, and it’s time to hang up/hit delete.
- Don’t send SSN/PII. Never reveal any sensitive data, including your SSN or information about yourself or finances, via email, text, social media message, or over the phone.
- ‘ID Spoofing’ Exists. Scammers are capable of using ‘spoofing technology’ to make it appear that a legitimate SSA official is calling you. In that case, be sure to not lower your guard just because the caller ID on your screen seems trustworthy.
- Beware Phishing Emails. SSN scams aren’t limited to emails alone, but this form of Phishing can be particularly deceptive. Some email scams are constructed well, and are therefore much harder to spot, so be on alert for signs such as vagueness, poor spelling/grammar, and unusual tone/language. Hover your mouse over hyperlinks to reveal true URL destinations (which could lead to fake SSA websites) and remember that official SSA logos and graphics can easily be exploited by scammers.
- Check with your Peers. Following on, why not ask your friends for their thoughts? Sometimes, a fresh pair of eyes can spot something you missed. Or perhaps one of your friends already knows it to be a scam? Openly discussing cyber crime/fraud can be highly beneficial – not just for you, but for everyone.
- Verify with the SSA. The only way to completely put your mind at rest is to actually verify whether you’re dealing with a fraudster. While you could do some investigating on Google to unearth more info about the potential scam, using the SSA’s My Social Security app, or contacting the SSA itself, is probably the more direct, simpler option.