Beyond the headlines about Social Security cost-of-living adjustments and changes in leadership, there is an ongoing need to warn anyone with a Social Security number to be alert to identify theft. Stealing someone’s Social Security number is a gateway to financial fraud.
Be alert to these maneuvers.
Scammers are using a telephone call, text message or email in an attempt “to convince the recipient that they need to provide Social Security numbers, bank account or credit card information or passwords.” This is one of the categories highlighted in the IRS’s list of “Dirty Dozen” scams this year (tinyurl.com/2x96xsuh).
We need to “be alert for a continuing surge of fake emails, text messages, websites and social media attempts to steal personal information,” warns the IRS.
Phone scammers are even creating fake versions of ID badges that most federal employees use to access federal buildings, then texting or emailing photos of the fake badges to potential scam victims, according to the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General (tinyurl.com/5eh6s6ha).
Heed the regulators’ warnings. If you visit the Social Security website (SSA.gov), you won’t be able to miss the red banner near the top asking “What should I do if I get a call claiming there’s a problem with my Social Security number or account?”
Clicking on that area will lead you to a FAQ page (tinyurl.com/9ud4a78v) that details what the Social Security Administration (SSA) will or won’t do when it comes to phone calls. For starters: “If there is a problem, we will mail you a letter. Generally, we will only contact you if you have requested a call or have ongoing business with us.”
SSA employees “will never threaten you for information or promise a benefit in exchange for personal information or money”; and “If you receive a questionable call, hang up, and report the call to our Office of the Inspector General.” The website for reporting it is oig.ssa.gov.
Also watch out for “phishing” schemes, in which scammers use email to trick a recipient into either revealing personal information or interacting with a link or attachment that is malicious. The SSA has information for combating that tactic as well (tinyurl.com/2h7uxy58). Highlights from that page:
• “Most emails from Social Security will come from a ‘.gov’ email address. If an email address does not end in .gov, use caution before opening attachments or clicking on pictures or links in the email.”
• “Links, logos or pictures in the body of an official Social Security email will always direct you to an official Social Security website.”
• “If you are not certain that an email you received came from Social Security or one of our marketing firms, DO NOT respond to the email or click on any links contained in the email message.”
What if you receive a text from the SSA? Expect a legitimate text only in limited situations, such as if you have subscribed to receive updates and notifications by text, or as part of the security protocol when accessing a “my Social Security” account.
Signing up for the “my Social Security” account is a good idea, as the SSA believes it can help you “identify any suspicious activity.” If you haven’t signed up yet, go to ssa.gov/myaccount.
“In 2020, people filed more reports about Identity Theft (29.4% of all reports), in all its various forms, than any other type of complaint,” according to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2020, released in February 2021. Government agencies continue to send out warnings about the danger.
To learn more about scams targeting Social Security accounts, go to oig.ssa.gov/scam. You also can learn more about preventing and reporting fraud at ssa.gov/fraud.
Julie Jason, JD, LLM, a personal money manager (Jackson, Grant Investment Advisers Inc. of Stamford, Connecticut) and award-winning author, welcomes your questions/comments (firstname.lastname@example.org). Please visit www.juliejason.com.
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