Recently the Social Security Administration (SSA) held its annual Slam the Scam Day in which it warned the public about Social Security related scams. In one common scam, scammers contact their targeted victims threatening them with arrest if they don’t make a payment. In other instances, scammers pose as SSA employees and indicate that there is a problem with their targeted victims Social Security number which requires either a payment or the providing of personal information, such as your bank account or your Social Security number, which the real SSA would obviously have.
It is important to remember that the SSA will not call you on the phone if there were a problem with your account and even if your Caller ID reads “Social Security Administration,” it is a simple matter for a scammer to use a technique called “spoofing” to manipulate your Caller ID to make it appear as if the call is coming from the SSA.
If you actually do owe money to the SSA, you will receive a snail mail letter that tells you what your payment options are as well as inform you about your appeal rights. The SSA does not accept gift cards or cryptocurrency so anyone asking for payment using those methods is definitely a scammer. The SSA only accepts electronic payments through Pay.gov, Online Bill Pay, a money order or check. It is also important to remember that the SSA will never threaten you with arrest or legal action if you do not agree to pay immediately.
As I often have cautioned you, you can never be sure who is calling you when you receive a phone call and therefore should never give out personal information when you are asked in a phone call. If you believe the call is legitimate, you should hang up and call back the company or agency at a number that you know is accurate in order to ascertain whether or not (usually not) the call was legitimate.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a tremendously helpful online service called My Social Security Account which allows you to set up a personal online account with the SSA that enables you to view your earnings history and estimates of benefits as well as manage your benefits online including changing your address or starting or changing direct electronic deposits of your check into a bank account you may designate. This is a tremendously convenient service, but it also provides a great opportunity for scammers who have been setting up My Social Security Accounts on behalf of seniors who have not already set up such accounts for themselves. The scammers then make changes to the victim’s account by directing their benefits checks to be sent to bank accounts controlled by the scammers. Even though the Social Security Administration requires verification of personal information by asking questions that only the Social Security recipient should know as part of the process for opening a My Social Security Account, too often this information is available to a determined identity thief who is thereby able to fraudulently open an account in the name of their intended victim.
In order to improve the security of the accounts, the SSA is now requiring people to use dual factor authentication to access their accounts once they have been set up. At the user’s option, the dual factor authentication is done by the SSA sending a one time code either to the user’s email or cell phone. Using an email address for dual factor authentication may prove to be problematic because it is not particularly difficult for a sophisticated hacker to gain access to someone’s email account.
Just as the best defense against income tax identity theft is to file your income tax return before an identity thief attempts does so in your name, so the best defense against the fraudulent setting up of a My Social Security Account in your name is for you to set one up first and protect its safety with a strong username and password. For information about signing up for a My Social Security Account go to https://ssa.gov/myaccount/
You can also require that any changes to the bank account into which your check is electronically deposited only be done at a Social Security branch office and not on your online account.
For those of you receiving the Scam of the day through an email, I just want to remind you that if you want to see the ever increasing list of Coronavirus scams go to the first page of the http://www.scamicide.com website and click on the tab at the top of the page that indicates “Coronavirus Scams.” Scamicide has been cited by the New York Times as one of three top sources for information about Coronavirus related scams.
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