Tricks Social Security Impostors Use to Scam Taxpayers: Internet ScamBusters #275
Could you tell if you were about to become the victim of a Social Security scam? It can happen, even when you're young. (Be sure to tell your parents and grandparents about these scams. And if you don't live in the US, similar scams are likely in your country as well, so understand the principles below.)
Few of us know specifics when it comes to how Social Security works -- to the average person it's just a large government program.
We've never done an issue on Social Security scams, so we decided to rectify that today. Here are four of the most popular Social Security scams so you can be on your guard.
And now for the main feature...
4 Social Security Scams
You use your Social Security number for your identity, to get a job, and to apply for Medicare and Social Security as you become older. Unfortunately though, there are a lot of Social Security scams.
Here are some of the most common scams related to Social Security and how to bust their cover.
1. Don't Trust the Letterhead
This is probably obvious, but just because a piece of paper says Social Security or has government symbols in its letterhead, that doesn't guarantee it's authentic. Every year consumer organizations get complaints of direct mailings that appear to be from the Social Security Administration but aren't.
In one such scam, the letter offers to provide the consumer a service -- like obtaining a Social Security number for a newborn, notifying Social Security of name changes for newly married persons, or obtaining personal earnings and benefit estimate statements -- for a fee.
These services are actually already provided by the Social Security Administration -- free of charge. Sometimes these companies just want the fees (so you'd only lose money), but sometimes they try to steal your identity as well.
Action: Throw out the letter and contact Social Security directly by phone at 1-800-441-2555 or visit the Social Security Administration's website.
2. Getting an Extra Social Security Check
In another direct mail scam, one that targets seniors, the letter offers its recipient an extra Social Security check. All you have to do is send a filing fee. The letter will ask you for money, for your bank account information or for your Social Security number to help with the application.
This is an attempt to steal your money, and usually your identity, by getting your personal information.
The Social Security Administration does not ask you to send them your Social Security number to get a check because they already know it.
People who get Social Security do receive legitimate mail from the Social Security administration when their benefits increase. Or they can get a statement on taxes paid and future benefits due.
Important: Be suspicious of any letter that asks for money or for you to send personal information back. Shred such letters or send them to the Social Security Administration for investigation.
3. A New and Better Social Security Card
Likewise, consumers should be VERY wary of phone solicitations that ask for personal information for Social Security purposes.
Last year a Pittsburgh paper reported on a scam in which seniors contacted by phone were told they were required to get a new Social Security card.
The caller asked for Social Security and bank account numbers to help process their requests.
"This is purely an attempt to obtain your Social Security number and other information for the purpose of stealing your identity," State Attorney General Tom Corbett told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
If you get a call like this, hang up the phone. If you fall for the scam, immediately contact your bank and advise them of what has happened. You should also ask the three credit reporting bureaus to place a fraud alert or credit freeze on your account.
Those bureaus are: Equifax, 1-800-997-2493; Experian, 1-888-397-3742; and TransUnion, 1-800-916-8800.
4. The Tax Refund Scam
In this scam, a Social Security recipient is told she can get help in preparing her tax return and promised she will get a refund.
This may sound innocent enough -- many communities have legitimate programs like this where trained volunteers prepare taxes for low income or elderly individuals.
But in this case the taxpayer gets fleeced. Here's what happens:
The victim is told to get the last three year's worth of 1099 statements from Social Security. By law the Social Security Administration must provide the statements, even if they suspect a scam.
Using the statements, the scam artist prepares three years worth of tax returns for a fee. He incorrectly reports these three years of Social Security benefits, claims the standard deduction, and creates a bogus refund amount.
The taxpayer files the faulty return and sometimes receives her tax refund. But later the IRS discovers the error and the taxpayer is forced to pay the money back, along with interest and penalties.
Meanwhile the tax preparer has skipped town with the $40 to $100 fee charged for their "service."
The Social Security Administration is warning all taxpayers requesting their 1099 statements to look out for this faulty tax preparation scam. If you have any doubts, contact a second tax professional for advice.
Finally, you can check out more information on a Social Security scam alert at Social Security Administration Scam Alert, Am I Really Getting More Spam, and am I Being Too Paranoid?
That's all for today, but we'll be back next week with another issue. See you then!