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Beware of a New Round of Impostor Scams

Updated: May 29, 2020

The Social Security Administration says fraudsters are trying to get your personal information.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is warning Americans about scammers posing as employees of the agency in order to steal their personal information.

The SSA and its Office of the Inspector General (OIG) are sounding the alarm this week about two types of scams. In the first, an individual gets a phone call with an automated recording saying that his Social Security number “has been suspended for suspicion of illegal activity.” The fraudster then provides a phone number and says the person must call it to fix the problem or else the person's assets will be frozen. Anyone who does call the number is asked to provide personal information the scammer can then use to commit identity theft or other fraud.

In the other scam, the caller pretends to work for Social Security and asks the person to verify personal information, including Social Security number, date of birth and address. The SSA first alerted the public to this scheme in January.

The SSA strongly discourages people from providing personal information over the telephone unless they are certain of who is on the other end of the line. In cases when the real SSA does call individuals, the agency has usually contacted the person before.

If you receive a suspicious call from someone claiming to be from the SSA, you should report that information to the OIG at 800-269-0271 or online. If you have questions about a phone call, email, text message or any other type of communication claiming to be from the SSA, you can contact any Social Security office or call Social Security’s toll-free customer service number at 800-772-1213 to make sure it is legitimate. (Social Security’s TTY number for the deaf or hard-of-hearing is 800-325-0778.)

Also pertaining to SSA benefits & scams.....

Someone Tried to Steal my Social Security Benefits!

Keep an eye on your online account before scammers try to take it over.

Ruth Eckenstein was surprised to get the letter from the Social Security Administration (SSA), given that she wasn’t receiving her benefits yet. But when the Oklahoma City resident opened that envelope in December, her surprise turned into the worst kind of shock.

Identity thieves pretending to be Eckenstein had accessed her Social Security account and were about to receive a check for her back benefits of $11,665. The check was so large because it was the total amount Eckenstein, 66, would have received by then if she had started claiming benefits when she turned 65.

“Luckily, I opened it up and read it, otherwise I wouldn’t have known about it,” Eckenstein says. “I felt really vulnerable.”

After hours of discussion with SSA employees, Eckenstein was able to convince the agency to stop payment on the check. But the incident reveals a frightening type of fraud endangering the retirement income that millions count on. Depending on when you enroll to claim benefits, the theft could go on for years before you discover it.

The SSA has not released the number of identity theft incidents involving Social Security benefits. But it has reported attempted breaches of its My Social Security website, the primary portal for benefit recipients. Between February 2013 and February 2016, there were more than 58,000 allegations of fraud related to My Social Security accounts. That’s a small fraction of the 34 million people who use the website, but still a substantial number of incidents.

It was through her My Social Security account online that Eckenstein was able to confirm that someone was trying to claim benefits in her name. Even though she wasn’t yet receiving benefits, Eckenstein already had set up her online account. She did so following the advice of the SSA, which for years has urged everyone over the age of 18 to open accounts to help prevent con artists from opening an account in your name and claiming your benefits.

But as Eckenstein can attest, it’s not foolproof.

“Getting an account and checking it often is a good idea; it just doesn’t necessarily stop fraudsters from trying to commit fraud in your name,” says Brian Krebs, a cybersecurity expert who runs Krebs on Security, based in northern Virginia.

After receiving the notice, Eckenstein logged on to her My Social Security account and confirmed that a payment of $11,665 was scheduled to be paid via debit card. Fraudsters like to use debit cards because the money loaded onto them can be spent almost as easily as cash and leaves little of a meaningful paper trail.

It turns out the identity thieves had enrolled by phone for Eckenstein’s benefits. They also changed the phone number on her account to a Miami area code. Luckily, her mailing address was still correct.

Eckenstein also discovered that the identity thieves had attempted to apply for disability benefits in her name. After months of multiple meetings with the SSA, Eckenstein says she has managed to resolve the issues related to the account takeover.

Experts advise Americans age 18-plus to check their accounts once a month for suspicious activity. Incidents can be reported to the SSA’s Office of the Inspector General (800-269-0271) or a local SSA field office.

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