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Layin’ It on the Line: Understanding and avoiding Social Security benefit scams

By Lyle Boss - Special to the Daily Herald | Apr 6, 2024

Courtesy photo

Lyle Boss

Social Security benefits are a hard-earned lifeline for millions of Americans, especially retirees and individuals with disabilities. Unfortunately, scammers relentlessly target these vital funds, employing increasingly sophisticated tactics to deceive unsuspecting victims. Understanding how these scams work is the first step in keeping your money safe.

Common Social Security scam tactics

Scammers are resourceful and constantly adapting their tricks. Here are some of the most common techniques they use:

  • Imposter scams: Criminals often impersonate Social Security Administration (SSA) employees, claiming there’s a problem with your Social Security number or benefits. They might say your number has been suspended, there’s fraudulent activity or that you owe money.
  • False promises: Scammers might offer to increase your benefits or claim you qualify for a special lump-sum payment, usually in exchange for a fee or personal information.
  • Threats and intimidation: To pressure you into acting quickly, scammers may threaten you with arrest, legal action or the loss of your benefits if you don’t comply with their demands.
  • Phishing and spoofing: Scammers use fake emails, texts or websites that mimic official SSA communications to steal your information. They even use technology to make caller IDs appear as genuine SSA phone numbers.

Red flags to watch out for

  • Unsolicited contact: The SSA will rarely initiate phone contact with you unless you’ve requested it or have an ongoing business. Be wary of unexpected calls, especially if the caller sounds threatening or demanding.
  • Requests for personal information: The SSA will never ask for your Social Security number or bank details over the phone or via text/email unless you initiate the interaction.
  • Unconventional payment methods: The SSA will never ask you to pay with gift cards, wire transfers, cryptocurrency or cash.
  • Sense of urgency: Scammers often try to create a sense of panic, pressuring you to make a hasty decision. This should arouse suspicion.

How to protect yourself

  • Hang up and verify: If you receive a suspicious call, it’s always best to hang up and contact the official SSA number: 1-800-772-1213. You can also report scam attempts to the SSA’s Office of the Inspector General (https://oig.ssa.gov/).
  • Never share sensitive information: Protect your Social Security number, bank details and other personal information, as you would a credit card. Don’t provide anything over the phone, email or text unless you are absolutely certain the request is legitimate.
  • Ignore pressuring tactics: Don’t let scammers rush or intimidate you. Take your time to verify any information before taking action. If you feel uncomfortable, hang up.
  • Educate yourself: Stay informed by visiting the SSA’s website (https://www.ssa.gov/scam/) to learn about the latest scam trends.

What to do if you’ve been scammed

If you think you’ve fallen victim to a Social Security scam, act promptly:

  • Report the scam: Contact the SSA’s Office of the Inspector General and your local police department to file a report.
  • Change passwords and monitor accounts: If you’ve shared financial or account information, immediately change your online banking passwords and contact your bank or credit card companies. Monitor your accounts closely for unauthorized activity.
  • Consider a credit freeze: Contact the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian) to put a freeze on your credit, preventing anyone from opening new accounts in your name.

Remember: The SSA takes scams very seriously and wants to help you protect your hard-earned benefits. By being vigilant, learning the signs of a scam and taking the right steps, you can significantly reduce your risk of falling prey to these deceptive schemes.

Lyle Boss, a native Utahn, is a member of Syndicated Columnists, a national organization committed to a fully transparent approach to money management. Boss Financial, 955 Chambers St., Suite 250, Ogden, UT 84403. Telephone: 801-475-9400.


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