Social Security scams have been around for years, with scammers attempting to take advantage of and steal from those who rely on retirement or disability benefits. But the panic brought on by COVID-19 and still-unfolding information about the CARE stimulus package checks have inspired a new spike in Social Security-centered schemes to get your money.
Here are some ways to recognize and avoid falling for Social Security scams, especially those using the coronavirus and stimulus checks as bait.
Common Social Security Scams
Here are some of the most common Social Security scams that are carried out. Being aware of what these scams usually sound like will help you to avoid falling for them.
Threatening Phone Calls
Scam calls tend to be one of the most popular methods carried out by Social Security frauds. In fact, in 2018 alone, more than 63,000 scam calls were reported to the Federal Trade Commission. The average victim of these calls lost $1,484!
During these calls, someone will imitate a Social Security agent and ask for personal information such as your Social Security number or directly ask you to make payments or transfer money. These calls may use threatening language to coerce vulnerable individuals to comply by threatening to withhold payments, suspend your Social Security number, or take legal action.
Always be aware that a genuine Social Security Administration officer will never threaten you or claim to be able to arrest you. They will also never ask for sensitive information over the phone or for payment of any kind. If you hear any of these warning signs, hang up the call and report the number on the SSA website’s form at oig.ssa.gov/.
A phishing email looks like it’s from a reputable sender, but actually attempts to solicit your private information. Frauds can make pretty convincing email designs and headers to match those genuinely sent by the SSA. If you receive an email supposedly from the SSA that requests you reply with personal information or fill forms with personal information, it’s fake. The SSA will never request this information over email.
Here are some more tips to avoid fake Social Security emails and other phishing emails:
- A phishing email will often use a fake or misspelled domain name similar to that of a real organization. For example, a scammer may send an email using the domain name sso.gov instead of ssa.gov in hopes that recipients won’t notice the difference at a glance.
- Phishing emails will often include suspicious attachments or links. Don’t click on any attachment or link you weren’t expecting to receive, and don’t use a link included in an email to log on to an account; go straight to the organization’s website to log in directly instead.
- There are often spelling or grammatical errors or other strange wordings included in phishing emails. If it doesn’t look professional or make total sense, be wary.
- An illegitimate email may ask for personal information including your phone, Social Security, or bank account numbers, or it may threaten legal action or other negative consequences for not responding. Legitimate organizations will not ask for your personal information through email or make threats.
Emerging Coronavirus-Related Scams
In addition to regular phone and email Social Security scams, new scams capitalizing on coronavirus panic and stimulus checks are appearing. Here are some popular ones that have emerged:
Fake Stimulus Checks
Although most people will likely receive their stimulus check through direct deposit, some will still receive paper checks in the mail. Authorities are warning that scammers may try sending fake checks. If you get a check that appears to be from the IRS but contains an odd amount of cents instead of a round dollar amount, it’s likely a scam.
Scammers are also soliciting information through calls and emails threatening that inaction will result in you not receiving your stimulus check. This is not true. Most people don’t need to take any action to receive their stimulus check. If you do need to, your personal information should only be given directly to the IRS through the official Economic Impact Payments page.
Scams offering COVID-19 Vaccines, Cures, and Testing
Some other common scams popping up around the coronavirus offer to sell you COVID-19 vaccines, cures, or testing kits. Testing is only available through official local and state government organizations, and there is no vaccine or cure currently available. If someone tries to sell you one of these solutions, it is a scam.
How to Protect Yourself
Many elderly individuals who are less technologically savvy rely on Social Security benefits, which is one reason why Social Security recipients are heavily targeted. And now that many of these recipients are more isolated from family members or others who may be able to help them recognize these fraudulent interactions, they may be even more at risk.
To protect yourself from Social Security scams, you should take the following actions:
- Familiarize yourself with fraudulent tactics. The information given above can help you recognize some of the basic tactics scammers use, but you can also stay up-to-date with reported scams at the FTC website.
- Never give out your personal information to someone you don’t know. Only use direct, official channels when logging on or corresponding with the SSA, and know that they will never ask for your personal information over phone or email.
- Check with your Social Security attorney before giving out your information. He or she will be able to inform you whether any step in your claims process requires you to provide the SSA with information and can help you protect your information and identify scams.