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Protect Yourself by Guarding Against These Common Social Security Scams

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Among all the scams that target seniors, Social Security scams are especially common. That’s because so many millions rely on Social Security benefits to fund most if not all of their retirement, which creates what a scammer might call “a target-rich environment.” When a senior gets a call from a scammer claiming that their benefits are at risk, that call immediately gets a beneficiary’s attention, making him or her vulnerable to getting ripped off.

We recently came across an article that highlights four of the most current Social Security scams that are victimizing seniors. We found the article in the Seattle Times, reprinted from NerdWallet and written by reporter Whitney Vandiver.  We hope you’ll take the warning to heart and share it with any Social Security beneficiaries you may know. You could be saving them thousands of dollars and endless headaches.

Social Security Scams: Fake Phone Calls Get Answered

According to Vandiver, scammers are counting on one universal truth: “When the Social Security Administration calls, you pick up.”

What’s more, Social Security scams are incredibly effective. Vandiver writes that “between October 2022 and June 2023, more than 55,000 people who answered calls from what they thought was the government agency said they were scammed.”

Additionally, between the quarters ending in June 2022 and June 2023, allegations of Social Security scams increased a whopping 61.7 percent, according to the Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General.

The tactic is simple, yet powerful: scammers call up an unsuspecting senior, say they’re with the Social Security Administration, and ask for personal information or money.  Too often, the seniors comply.

Social Security Scams Rely on Misplaced Trust

“Imposter scams gain victims’ trust by appropriating federal agencies’ authority,” says Stacey Wood, the Molly Mason Jones Chair in Psychology at Scripps College in Claremont, California. “Some impersonate officials with fake IDs or use caller IDs that resemble government phone numbers.”

With all of this tech and savvy at the scammers’ disposal, how do you know if it’s a scammer calling, or if it’s legit? Vandiver says that if they tell you any of the following four stories, “it’s time to hang up.”

Social Security Scams: “Your Number Has Been Suspended”

In this scam, a caller will tell you that your Social Security number is “suspended,” and that they require your personal information to “reactivate it.”

Why should you hang up? Simple: this just isn’t how the government works.

“The government doesn’t suspend Social Security numbers,” Vandiver writes. “Fraudsters are after personal information to steal your identity.” What’s more, government officers will never call you on the phone. Any issue with your account typically starts with a letter or possibly an alert on your my Social Security account.

Social Security Scams: “Your Benefits Have Been Suspended”

This tactic is similar to the last, but instead, the scammer will tell you that your benefits have been suspended. In this scenario, they’ll either ask for your Social Security number to verify your identity, or they’ll tell you that you need to pay a fee to have your benefits reinstated.

And just like the last one, Vandiver urges you to remember that this isn’t how the SSA does things. They will never call and ask for your Social Security number, nor would they ever charge you to correct your benefits.

Hang up that phone!

Social Security Scams: “For a Fee, We’ll Increase Your Benefits”

In this fraudulent tale, the caller will tell you that they can increase your benefits – for a fee, of course.

For this one, scammers use the SSA’s annual cost-of-living adjustment as a kernel of truth to hang their fraud on. Vandiver writes, “Imposters offer to apply the COLA if you pay for the service. The truth? The SSA automatically applies COLA increases to benefits.” You never have to do anything or pay anything to get the cost-of-living benefit you’re entitled to, and no amount of “extra payment” will add to your annual COLA amount or make it appear earlier.

Social Security Scam: “You Owe Uncle Sam Money”

Nothing is scarier than being told that you owe the government money you didn’t realize you owed, and scammers know that. For this fraud, the caller will tell you that you owe money for a penalty, or as correction for an overpayment. They may even threaten to suspend your benefits or have you arrested if you do not comply and pay immediately.

But no matter how scary it sounds, go ahead and hang up.

Why? Because, as Vandiver explains, “Scammers often request payment through wire transfers, cryptocurrency, prepaid debit cards, gift cards or by mailing cash – none of which the Social Security Administration accepts. Scammers like these payment methods because they are practically impossible to trace.”

And again, if there were ever any issue with your Social Security account, you would hear about it by mail – not over the telephone.

Social Security Scams Against Seniors On the Rise

The sad truth is that seniors are becoming an increasing target for these kinds of scams, according to a recent announcement from The Administration for Community Living, which is a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Wood says, “Because Social Security is a significant income stream for older adults, they are often more likely to answer calls or respond to letters out of fear of missing something important.”

And seniors also tend to be more lucrative targets for fraud. “They have more assets, so it’s just a better use of scammers’ time to exploit older people,” Wood adds.

Social Security Scams: What to Look Out For

To conclude, the following tips and tricks to avoid these types of scams come directly from Vandiver’s article, and we’ve included them verbatim.

You’re likely being scammed if someone:

  • Calls unexpectedly from the SSA. The SSA generally contacts beneficiaries through the mail, so be suspicious of any other contact method.
  • Says there’s a problem with your benefits. If there is an issue with your benefits, the SSA will send you a letter explaining how to correct it and whom to contact.
  • Pressures you to respond immediately. The SSA gives you time to pay legitimate penalties and won’t threaten to arrest or sue you if you wait to pay a debt.
  • Requires you to pay to correct something. The SSA corrects issues with your benefits and applies increases for free.

Social Security Scams: How to Protect Yourself

  • Never give out personal information. The SSA will never reach out to ask for sensitive information already on file.
  • Know what’s available online. Scammers can find your personal information online. If someone has this information, it doesn’t mean they’re from the SSA, says Krissten Petersmarck, a certified national Social Security advisor in Detroit.
  • Investigate unexpected changes in your benefits. If your Social Security benefits decrease unexpectedly, ask why. “If things are changing and you’re not aware of why, the first thing you need to do is contact the Social Security Administration,” Petersmarck says.
  • Check your credit history. Check your credit reports with the credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) for signs of identity theft, Petersmarck says. You can request a free credit report every year at

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(originally reported at

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