Each of the almost 340 million US citizens will receive a Social Security Number. Up until 2019, around 65 million were participants in some form of a government assistance program. More than 13 million people living in poverty in the United States receive no help from government welfare programs, and, according to the CPS ASEC 2019 report, over 26 million Americans had no health insurance at any point during the year.
Since the economic devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, this number is on the increase. It is no surprise that more people are resorting to scams and fraud, including health insurance fraud.
What are Social Security number scams about?
Scammer schemes involve fraudulent calls, texts, and emails impersonating the Social Security Administration to steal Social Security Numbers (SSNs), preferably in conjunction with other sensitive personal information.
What can someone do with your SSN? Identity theft is now taking on frightening proportions with thieves emptying bank accounts, obtaining loans, mortgages, and utilities fraudulently, and accessing health care or welfare program scams they are not entitled to.
Luckily it’s easy to recognize and avoid these scams. Even if you have been duped you can escape a lot of damage if you act fast enough.
Types of SSN scams
Fraudulent calls relating to Social Security benefits are big business. During such calls, a person or robocall may pretend to be a Social Security Administration (SSA) representative. Their goal is to either get your SSN and other personal information, or to demand instant cash or gift card payments.
They use increasingly sophisticated spoofing techniques that substitute the genuine Social Security hotline number for their own number. They deepen the deception by misusing the names of real SSA officials.
It is one of the more common and frightening scams. The scammer will claim that the victim has committed some illegal activity revolving around the victim’s SSN. They’ll threaten the victim with immediate arrest – that the police are already on their way to pick up the victim.
The only way to avoid arrest is to immediately call the number they’ll provide where you can resolve the issue by updating your personal information or even paying a fee or penalty.
SCAM: SSA officials will never call someone to threaten them with legal action about incorrect information, or have them call an unknown number.
Selling SSA services
Sometimes scammers attempt to sell services that the SSA provides for free. They may offer you a new, improved Social Security card, a record of your Social Security contributions, or the hassle-free enrollment of a new family member in the program.
SCAM: Don’t conduct your Social Security-related affairs via the phone line.
Phishing by email
It’s not difficult for scammers to use phishing emails to impersonate the SSA. Modern technology enables them to produce pixel-perfect fake SSA documents, right down to the official stamp and font styles. Often there are links to a fake but convincing SSA website. The email messages will usually contain an urgent request for you to update your information on the fake website or by email.
SCAM: According to the SSA, they’ll never request personal information via email. Also, official communications from the SSA will never contain intimidation or threatening language.
We pay very little attention to snail mail nowadays, except perhaps for letters from the bank. However, the elderly are very susceptible to Social Security fraud by mail.
Scammers may send victims an official-looking letter offering an extra check, provided that the victim completes the enclosed form with their up-to-date personal information and pays a filing fee. They’ll request their SSN and banking information to process the application.
SCAM: The SSA doesn’t need your full SSN as they already have it, and in cases where the SSA does send you a letter about, for example, an increase in benefits, it will never ask for money or personal information.
Protecting yourself from Social Security fraud
The best way to protect yourself is by constant vigilance. If you receive phone calls requesting information, hang up. If you receive emails that sound threatening, send them to your spam folder. If you get a letter asking for money, throw it away.
Store your personal information, bank accounts, Social Security card, medical records, and other sensitive information securely. Also, don’t just throw sensitive documents away. Shred the paperwork before throwing it out.
If you do access your social security account online, keep your password a secret and change it regularly for extra safety. Keep a constant watch on your credit reports for signs that your financial information has been compromised. There are excellent credit monitoring services available that will be a big help if you are unsure about the process.
Be proactive to prevent Social Security fraud
You can block the numbers of scammers when they call you, but advanced spoofing technology allows scammers to change their numbers constantly. You will receive calls from them again. This pattern of constant harassment is often due to the increasing numbers of opportunistic people-search sites on the internet.
They are often just data brokers in disguise, who will buy your private information from dubious sources and sell it to anyone who asks. The sheer scale of the problem becomes apparent when you try to scrub your information from the internet.
Use an automated data-removal tool to remove your information, monitor reappearance, and repeat the process. Onerep is an established and reasonably-priced option for long-term internet profile management.
Reporting a Social Security Scam
If you suspect you’ve been scammed, or simply want to report calls or correspondence that you find suspicious, you have several options.
You can call your local authorities or the OIG hotline (1-800-269-0271)5 or submit a fraud report on the OIG’s website. You can also report the scam on the FTC complaint website. Document everything you can remember, such as a telephone number, website, the caller’s name, the time and date of the call or email, what information you were asked for, and anything else that might help identify the scammer.