Among current phone scams, one of the most damaging comes from callers claiming that there’s a problem with your Social Security number. Sometimes they’ll identify themselves as investigators with the Social Security Administration (SSA) itself, or they may pose as law-enforcement officers. The calls are alarming and make a convincing case for immediate action, which is why they’re so successful. Here’s how to spot those scam calls if you receive one.
Scam Calls From Social Security
The Social Security scam is increasingly common, and it’s effective. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recorded 3,200 complaints about the scam in 2017, but by the end of 2018 that number had ballooned to 35,000. Collectively, those victims reported $10 million in losses, which means the scammers are indeed making out like bandits.
The calls may be automated robocalls or may come directly from a human. The story changes, but the bottom line is the same: There’s a problem with your Social Security number or benefits, and they need your personal information in order to fix it. You can listen to an actual recording of a sample call on the FTC’s website, if you’d like to hear one for yourself.
Recognizing the Scam
The scammers sound plausible, and some may even use digital trickery to spoof caller ID into showing the SSA’s actual phone number, 800-772-1213. So how can you tell when the call comes from a scammer? It’s very simple: they’ll do, or ask for, things the real SSA won’t. A few of those things are outlined below.
- The call itself: The real SSA very seldom contacts individuals, and on those rare occasions it’s almost always in response to an inquiry you’ve made. So unless you yourself have recently reached out to the SSA, it’s probably a scam.
- The pitch: Callers may offer a carrot or a stick. Some claim you’re owed an increase in benefits, others that you’re at risk of suspension or even prosecution. Either way, they need your personal information to help you out. Real SSA employees will never do this, period.
- The request: The caller may ask for your Social Security number, or perhaps just to verify the last four digits of the full number. You may also be asked for other personal information, including a phone number or banking information. Again, real SSA staffers will never do this.
The Law-Enforcement Variation
In another common variation of this scam, callers claim to be from the police or another law-enforcement agency. They’ll tell you that your Social Security number has been used in the commission of crimes, and then proceed to interrogate you about your potential involvement. They may also tell you an arrest warrant has been issued.
After you’ve had a few minutes to make a case for your innocence, they’ll relent and offer to help you disentangle your life and finances from the criminal investigation. That’s when they’ll start digging for your personal information. They may also suggest that you move to an encrypted messaging app — “for your security” — before hitting you up for your banking information.
If you get a call like this, the FBI’s advice is blunt and simple: Assume it’s a scam, because real law-enforcement agencies don’t do this.
What to Do If You’re Called
If you receive one of these calls, the best way to play it is simply to hang up. If you want to be sure you are not in fact in any legal trouble, don’t call a number you’re given by the potential scammer. Instead, look up the agency’s legitimate phone number and call in directly.
If the scammer gives you any contact information at all, you can turn that to your advantage. Spokeo’s search tools can often track down the shady figures behind a phone number, email address, alias or messaging-service handle. Not only does this confirm that the call is fraudulent, it gives you useful information to pass along when you report the incident.
File a Report
Ultimately, reporting the call is one of the most important things you can do. It helps law-enforcement agencies track the progress of the scam, gives them insight into any new tactics the scammers evolve over time, and helps them better protect citizens from the scammers’ efforts. If you’ve received any variation of the Social Security scam call, you can (and should) report it to any or all of these agencies:
- The FTC, at its Complaint Assistant
- The FBI, at its Internet Crime Complaint Center
- The Social Security Administration, through the Office of the Inspector General