Phone Scam Alert: People Posing as Social Security Employees
Last year, the Social Security Administration (SSA) issued a warning about suspicious phone calls from people claiming to represent the SSA. In one specific case, Kentucky residents who used a certain law firm to assist with applying for Social Security benefits were receiving the bogus calls.
The caller would offer people $9,000 from a compensation fund if they would send $200 to a bank. People who actually sent money would receive more calls with promises of higher compensation amounts if they sent more money. Others were threatened with arrest if they didn’t send money.
Not surprisingly, the people making the calls had nothing to do with the SSA and the compensation fund doesn’t exist. The law firm pleaded guilty to perpetrating the scam with the help of a former SSA judge and doctors who had submitted thousands of fraudulent medical documents to support SSA disability applications. They were forced to pay $550 million for their fraudulent submissions.
The SSA then started receiving new reports of suspicious calls from across the country. Callers posing as SSA employees would attempt to find out people’s personally identifiable information.
They would promise victims an increase in Social Security benefits or assistance with a disability application if they would “verify” their name, date of birth, Social Security number, parents’ names, and other information. Some callers said the victim’s Social Security benefits would stop if they didn’t provide this information. Others claimed to be conducting surveys. Armed with the victim’s personal data, the caller would commit identity theft or steal money from the victim’s bank account.
How the SSA Really Operates
SSA employees will occasionally contact citizens by phone. In most cases, the purpose of the call will be to follow up on a previous application for benefits or some other issue that you initiated with the SSA.
However, there are certain things the SSA will never do.
- They’ll never demand an immediate payment.
- They’ll never demand payment for a debt without allowing you to appeal the amount owed.
- They’ll never require the use of a specific form of payment, like a prepaid debit card.
- They’ll never ask you to provide personal or financial information over the phone.
- They’ll never threaten to cancel benefits or have you arrested or deported.
What You Should Do if You Receive a Suspicious Call from the SSA
If it doesn’t sound right, assume it’s a scam. Provide zero information to the caller and save as much information as you can. If you’re not sure if the call is legitimate, you can call 1-800-772-1213 or go to https://www.ssa.gov to find out how to contact the SSA.
Note the phone number and the date and time of the call. How did the caller identify himself or herself? What information or actions did they request? Why were they requesting that information? Did they threaten you with certain consequences for failing to cooperate?
Any details you can provide from a fraudulent call can help authorities track down and apprehend the perpetrators. To report a Social Security impersonation scam, contact the SSA Office of the Inspector General at https://oig.ssa.gov/report.
Who Is at Risk?
These calls are still happening because the scams are relatively easy to coordinate and execute. We encourage you to share this information with family and friends, particularly the elderly.
Older Americans grew up in a more trusting time and still tend to do business by phone. They often have a lot of money invested in their home or retirement accounts. On the other end of the spectrum, many older folks are in difficult financial situations or are dealing with health issues that scammers will attempt to exploit.
The best thing we can do for our loved ones is to provide them with information, warn them about specific threats, and encourage them to report suspicious activity immediately.