Personal Finance

Social Security scams have caused millions of dollars in losses in 2019 alone. How you can avoid becoming a victim

Key Points
  • The Social Security Administration is the No. 1 government agency targeted by imposters, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
  • If you get a call allegedly from the agency, it is probably a scam.
  • Before you give out any information or money, these are the steps you want to take.
Drazen | Getty Images

For many people, it's a call they're not expecting.

An unknown caller tells you that your Social Security number has been suspended or canceled.

If it happens to you, it's likely the latest iteration of a robocall scam the IRS warned individuals about earlier this year. Still other calls try to convince people to pay up with cash or gift cards in order to avoid getting arrested.

Chances are, you or someone you know has received one of these calls.

In the first six months of 2019, people filed 73,000 reports about Social Security fraud, according to the Federal Trade Commission, with losses totaling $17 million.

Tweet

And because you're caught unaware, you may be more susceptible than you think to becoming a victim.

Now, congressional lawmakers have started to move toward curbing these practices. The House of Representatives passed a bill on Dec. 4 to limit robocalls by requiring carriers to block the numbers without charging consumers extra money. The Senate passed similar legislation earlier this year.

And on Dec. 10, Reps. John Larson, D-Conn., and Tom Reed, R-N.Y., asked the Social Security Administration to review scam calls purporting to come from the agency.

"While SSA has taken steps in recent months to prevent and raise public awareness about these imposter calls, we are alarmed that the scams continue to be widespread and severe," the congressmen wrote in a letter to Andrew Saul, commissioner of the Social Security Administration.

More from Personal Finance:
Lawmakers renew push for mailed Social Security statements
Why some economists are calling 401(k) plans a 'disaster'
Can you retire in 2020? Here is your answer

Financial advisor Diahann Lassus, president of Lassus Wherley, a subsidiary of Peapack Gladstone Bank, received one of the Social Security scam calls herself.

"I deleted the call," Lassus said. "Most people are not going to delete the call.

"Most people are going to listen to it, and they're going to panic."

The calls can be effective in defrauding victims because they "terrify people," Lassus said.

At times like these, it helps to remember some basic facts. Most important, the Social Security Administration and IRS do not make these kinds of direct calls.

"Don't be afraid to hang up," Lassus said. "If they're for real, then you'll get something in the mail."

VIDEO4:4904:49
What to do when your identity has been stolen

It's also important to be similarly suspicious of any notifications that come through email.

"The Social Security Administration is not going to send you an email with a click here link," Lassus said.

Also, limit how often you give out your Social Security number. You should think twice before revealing that information on medical forms, for example, where that information is often not necessary.

"I personally never give out my Social Security number, except to the IRS," Lassus said.