Social Security Scams Are on the Rise
Written by Thomas M. Geier, CPA, CFP ®, PFS
Over the years, Social Security has been a vital force in contributing to the security of Americans. It has acted as a formidable barrier to poverty for many as they enter their later years. This treasured government program has now become the latest target for fraudsters to exploit. Through phone calls, emails, and online hacking, these scammers are responsible for more than 35,000 reported cases in 2018, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
From February 2013 to February 2016, the Inspector General received more than 58,000 fraud allegations related to “My Social Security” accounts. The Social Security Administration identified nearly 63,000 likely fraudulent online benefit applications in fiscal 2018, according to the Office of the Inspector General. This increase in fraudulent activity is leaving Americans unsettled and on high alert and causing agencies like the Social Security Administration to implement additional protections. With data on nearly every American and a payout of roughly $1 trillion in benefits in fiscal 2018, fraudsters are looking for ways to tap what they view as a gold mine.
What Tricks Are They Using?
- A phone call saying there’s a problem with your account and they need information to fix it.
- A phone call saying your number has been suspended due to illegal activity and there are steps you need to follow to fix the issue.
- A phone call saying you are owed a benefit increase and need to provide them with additional information to be considered for it.
- An email requesting additional information or asking you to click on a link for a free service that protects you from social security fraud. It then takes you to a fake government web site where it can steal your information. Note: If you hover over the link, the address should end with “.gov/” If there is anything between .gov and the slash, it’s fake.
- An email saying your bank account is at risk and offers to help you keep it safe.
- Gaining access to an individual’s “My Social Security Portal” after they have obtained the personal information they need from an unsuspecting victim. By having access to the portal, they can fake a claim in your name or even change the direct deposit information so the money flows into their account instead of yours. This portal was launched in 2012 to encourage users to view statements and manage benefits online. In 2017, the portal started requiring 2-factor authentication, which the SSA is hoping adds a hurdle for the fraudsters.
Keep in Mind
- Social Security Administration rarely calls individuals unless you have already been in contact with the agency. For example, if you have a pending Social Security Disability (SSD) application, there is a possibility an agent may call you if the information on the application isn’t complete or there are discrepancies that need to be cleared up.
- SSA does not threaten people with legal action if you don’t provide information or send money.
- SSA does not block or suspend numbers
- Just because the number on your caller ID may show up as Social Security Administration, don’t believe it. Scammers use “spoofing technology” to achieve this trick.
What You Can Do
- Install a robocall-blocking app on your smartphone or sign up for a robocall-blocking service. Nomorobo is one of these apps. They charge $1.99/month for smartphones and it is free for landlines. Some free apps: Hiya, Robokiller, and YouMail. Be aware that some of the free apps access your contact lists.
- Don’t answer the phone if you know it is a Robo-caller.
- Don’t call a number left on your voicemail by a Robo-caller.
- Register your “My Social Security account” and check it regularly for suspicious activity.
- Block electronic access to your social security record at socialsecurity.gov/blockaccess. By doing this, no one will be able to view or change your personal information through Social Security’s web site or automated phone line. The block can be lifted after confirming your identity directly with Social Security.
- Call 800-772-1213 and speak with a real Social Security representative.
- Report fraudulent calls/activity to ftc.gov/complaint or call the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General at 800-269-0271.
The unfortunate truth is that anyone can fall victim to these criminal acts. Like a defeated champion, privacy has been overthrown by the rapid rise of social media. The information highway continues to expand, opening even more doorways for fraudsters to enter. They are clever, resourceful, and great manipulators. Now more than ever, it is crucial that individuals arm themselves with the knowledge necessary to protect themselves from fraud and potential financial ruin.
Sources: Kiplinger/ Consumer Reports/ SSA
© Geier Asset Management, Inc. March 2019. Thomas M. Geier, CPA, CFP ®, PFA is a Vice President of Geier Asset Management, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor. The articles & opinions expressed in this material were gathered from a variety of sources, but are reviewed by Geier Asset Management, Inc. prior to its dissemination. All sources are believed to be reliable but do not constitute specific investment advice. The views expressed are those of the firm as of March 2019 and are subject to change. These opinions are not intended to be a forecast of future events, a guarantee of results, or investment advice. Any advice given is general in nature and investors must consider their own individual circumstances. In all cases, please contact your investment professional before making any investment choices. Geier Asset Management, Inc. is not responsible for any damages or losses arising from any use of this information. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.