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September 20, 2018

How to Protect Yourself from Social Security Scams

The phone rings. It’s a representative from the Social Security Administration and, fortunately, the call wasn’t too long. The caller just needed to have some basic information confirmed, like your address and date of birth. And, oh. Yes. Your social security number, bank account number and “new” Medicare number. If you don’t respond, the caller warns, assets can be frozen until the situation is resolved, and/or other dire consequences may occur. 

If you receive a call like this, even if the caller doesn’t ask for all these pieces of information, and even if it’s an official-sounding automated “robocall,” pause. In July 2018, the Acting Inspector General of Social Security shared a warning that thieves are making these types of calls in growing numbers right now. They are a cheap and easy way to garner enough information to financially scam older adults.

If you’ve already responded to these types of questions on a phone call, don’t blame yourself. These scammers can be very slick. Instead, read on to find out steps you can take to protect yourself going forward. Also note that, although employees of the Social Security Administration may occasionally make a phone call for customer-service reasons (the IRS doesn’t), it is fairly rare and usually occurs because the situation is already known to the person receiving the call.

What to Do

If you receive such a call (or have already received one), contact the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the Social Security Administration. You can call 1-800-269-0271 or contact them online. If you receive a phone call that you have questions about, or otherwise receive a communication said to be from Social Security–perhaps an email, letter or text–call your local Social Security office or the toll-free customer service line from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday: 1-800-772-1213. If you are hard of hearing, use the TTY number: 1-800-325-0778.

An article found in Forbes shares tips on how to respond if you receive a robocall. They include the following:

  • If the recording asks you to press a certain button to stop calls, just hang up. This is a scammer’s trick to identify potential targets.
  • Don’t respond to questions, even–and especially–to those that just require a “yes” answer. Here are potential dangers associated with a simple “yes.”
  • Contact your telephone services provider and ask what call blocking tools are available to you. If you already know of problematic telephone numbers, share those with them.
  • Register your number on the Do Not Call List to block telemarketing calls.
  • Review this information from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to discover ways to stop unwanted phone calls and texts.

In general, if you have reason to believe a call you’re on is a scam, assume you’re right. Hang up. Don’t engage with them. Hang up. Then, you can double check with the Social Security Administration, following tips provided in this post.

Another resource you can use to protect yourself is AARP’s Fraud Watch Network. You can:

  • Sign up to receive notifications about the latest scams (currently, new subscribers also receive a free e-book).
  • Call the Fraud Watch Helpline (1-877-908-3360) to share what happened to you and receive help from the AARP’s call center.
  • Check a map to see where scams are being reported, geographically speaking.
  • Subscribe to listen to AARP podcasts, many of which focus on fraud education and tips on how to protect yourself.
    Avoid Senior Scams

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