Social Security is the major source of post-retirement income for most older adults, so if a senior receives a call from the Social Security Administration (SSA), they are likely to pick up the phone and listen!
But the SSA is warning seniors that these days, con artists have been impersonating SSA officials to steal the money of older adults. Many seniors are reporting that they’ve received calls or robocalls along these lines:
“Your Social Security account has been compromised.”
“Your account has been reported for illegal activity and the funds in your bank account will be seized.”
“The Social Security computers are down and we need to verify your information.”
“Good news—your benefit is being raised. We just need you to confirm your bank account number.”
Callers sometimes threaten victims with arrest, a fine, or the suspension of their Social Security or Medicare benefits. The crook may demand money, in the form of cash, a wire transfer, or gift cards.
Sometimes, instead of asking for money, the caller demands to know the senior’s Social Security number, date of birth, mother’s maiden name and other personal information to “clear the problem.” The crooks can use this data to raid a senior’s bank account, run up their credit cards or otherwise impersonate them.
According to the Inspector General of Social Security, these con artists are using caller-ID “spoofing” so that it appears that a call is coming from Washington, DC and even from the SSA itself. These fraudsters are constantly coming up with new angles. Believe it or not, in one of the most recent variations, they even pretend to be the Inspect General’s Fraud Hotline itself!
Phone calls aren’t their only approach. They might send an official-looking letter with a number to call, or send emails that include a link to a fake Social Security website they’ve created.
Awareness is the key to protecting seniors from these scams
Learn about these scams, and share the information with older friends, loved ones and their caregivers. The SSA and the Federal Trade Commission offer advice to help Social Security beneficiaries avoid being scammed:
- The first thing to know is that the SSA will never call you to threaten your benefits. As a matter of fact, the SSA would rarely call you at all, unless you’ve asked for help. If you’re not sure, you can verify that a call is really from the SSA by calling them at 1-800-772-1213. But if you see that number on caller ID, don’t trust it—it could be spoofed.
- Don’t give the caller your personal information. If someone has contacted you, you can’t be sure of who they are. Don’t tell them your Social Security number, bank information or credit card number.
- If you receive one of these calls, just hang up. Don’t talk to the caller—if you do, that marks you as a possible victim for future fraud.
- Don’t trust a name or number. Con artists use official-sounding names to fool seniors into trusting them and thinking they are really Social Security. A number that shows up on caller ID as being from Washington, DC can actually be from anywhere in the world. Email addresses and printed materials can be faked, as well.
- If you suspect that a call is fraudulent, report it to the SSA Office of the Inspector General Fraud Hotline. You can:
- Call: 1-800-269-0271 (TTY: 1-866-501-2101)
- Submit a report online
- Send a report by mail to:
Social Security Fraud Hotline
P.O. Box 17785
Baltimore, MD 21235
- FAX: 410-597-0118
How can we protect the Social Security of ourselves and older loved ones?
Sadly, older adults can be vulnerable to the wiles of con artists. Cognitive changes, unfamiliarity with new technologies and social isolation might make them less suspicious. And unlike many younger folks, they will often answer the phone. Seniors with memory loss are especially vulnerable to the wiles of con artists. If you are worried about a loved one, talk to an aging life care professional (geriatric care manager), an elder law attorney or financial advisor about how you can help them avoid being defrauded and otherwise manage their money.
And remember—even many seniors who are pretty savvy have fallen for these types of scams. The con artists are that skilled! If a loved one has been targeted, encourage them not only to report it, but to share their story with others. Passing on a cautionary tale can help your loved one feel empowered and to know they are doing a good thing for others. It’s too bad that today, we need to have our guard up all the time—but a healthy dose of skepticism goes a long way in protecting our money. Spread the word!
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise with information from the Social Security Administration and the Federal Trade Commission