- If you get a call, text or email from someone claiming to be from the Social Security Administration, it is likely a scam.
- Fraudsters who prey on fear bilked people out of almost $64 million last year through imposter scams, according to the government agency.
- Here's what to watch out for — and how you can help stop — perpetrators of these schemes.
If you answer a phone call claiming to be the Social Security Administration demanding money, the agency wants you to know it's a scam.
Many Americans fall victim to this trap every year, which can also happen by text, email and postal mail.
In 2021, the agency received more than 568,000 reports of Social Security-related scam attempts totaling more than $63.6 million in losses to victims.
So far this year, it has received more than 31,000 Social Security-related scam complaints.
More incidents may possibly go unreported due to shame or embarrassment, according to government officials.
Scammers use fear to try to get people to act without thinking, Kilolo Kijakazi, acting commissioner of the Social Security Administration, said during a Wednesday press call.
Steps to take if you receive a suspicious text, call or email:
- Hang up and do not respond.
- Do not disclose personal information, such as your Social Security number or bank account information.
- Never make payments with gift cards, wire transfers, cryptocurrencies or by mailing cash for any reason.
- Report scams to Oig.ssa.gov.
Fraudsters may say there's a problem with your Social Security number or account.
They may ask you for personal information, like your Social Security number or banking information.
They may threaten to arrest you if you don't pay a fee or fine.
They may even send pictures of fabricated government badges, cite false identification numbers or send letters using fake Social Security Administration letterhead.
"The Social Security Administration will never tell someone to wire money, buy gift cards or pay with cryptocurrency," said Gail Ennis, inspector general at the Social Security Administration. "If anyone does ask you that, you know it's a scam."
Government officials are working to crack down on the perpetrators of these schemes.
Currently, they are pursuing 46 major criminal investigations involving individuals or companies who have engaged in these schemes, Ennis said.
The tactics perpetrators use are getting more elaborate. They may demand cash via Paypal, Venmo or cryptocurrency, in addition to cash, prepaid gift cards, retail gift cards or wire transfers.
They may also communicate with victims via encrypted applications like WhatsApp, Telegram or WeChat.
For some victims, the scams can result in big losses. One 74-year-old victim liquidated more than $500,000 in retirement savings after he was threatened with arrest.
In some cases, the government can recover the money before it's too late. Earlier this year, government officials were able to intercept a package as it was en route to fraud perpetrators that contained $20,000 in cash after a victim reported it.
The Social Security Administration will be holding the following events to raise awareness about scams consumers need to watch out for, as part of its third annual Slam the Scam Day:
- March 10, 1 PM EST
@USAGovEspanol will host the Spanish-language Twitter chat using the hashtag #OjoConLasEstafas
- March 10, 3 PM EST
@USAGov will host the English-language Twitter chat using the hashtag #SlamTheScamChat
- March 10, 7 PM EST
SSA will host a Facebook Live event with the Federal Trade Commission