New wave of scams adds to Social Security hazards: Internet Scambusters #648
Scammers come up with all sorts of excuses and explanations when they set out to steal your Social Security number -- or even your benefit payments.
This week, we've added a couple of new variations to our list of scam tactics and rolled them into a list of the 10 most common tricks.
In our Alert of the Week, we also have a warning for American Express card users who may receive a message saying they've changed their email address.
Let's get started...
10 Most Common Social Security Scams
The record level of IRS-related scams during the tax-filing season has been accompanied by a new wave of Social Security scams.
We've seen many of them before -- and reported on them in an earlier issue, Four Social Security Scams.
But there are also a couple of new tricks to be on the lookout for.
In all cases, the crooks want to get their hands on your Social Security number (SSN) and perhaps your benefits.
For example, if a target victim doesn't already have an online Social Security account, the crooks will use the information they steal to set up one and then redirect payments to their own bank accounts.
But the information may also be used for broader identity theft, in which the scammers use that SSN to apply for credit.
We've compiled a list of the 10 most common tricks and excuses the scammers use to try to persuade victims to part with their precious SSN and bank details.
Most of them arrive by email but we've come across reports of crooks turning up on doorsteps, claiming to be from the Social Security Administration (SSA), and demanding information.
Either way, here are the main excuses they use and the claims they make:
- You're entitled to additional or new benefits, which you can claim for by completing a form online.
- Your cost-of-living adjustment can only be implemented if you provide your SSN and other information.
- The agency needs to update the information they hold about you.
- The agency wants to send money they've previously underpaid to you.
- Because of a computer problem your records have been lost and need to be replaced.
- The agency's computers are "down" and they want to arrange to make a manual payment to you.
- An impostor visits your home and asks to see your Social Security card for supposed security purposes.
- There's a problem with your enrollment in a Medicare drug plan.
- They simply want you to confirm your bank information so they can ensure your payments go through.
- They need to validate your identity and, if you fail to provide information, your SSN will be canceled.
In this latest incident, victims receive an email with the subject heading "SSN Validation/REPLY."
This says that all US citizens and "residence" (note misspelling -- it should be "residents") must comply by providing the requested information for "validation."
In many cases the crooks also try to convince victims they're genuine by suggesting that they're actually seeking information for security purposes.
Avoiding these scams is relatively straightforward. Here's how:
- If you get an unexpected call at your home from someone claiming to be from the SSA, it's a scam. The real agency always makes an appointment with you first.
- If you get a phone call or email trying to set up an appointment, check it out independently (see below).
- If you get a call or an email asking you to provide your SSN or other confidential information, it's a scam. The SSA does not do this.
The agency says in an online statement: "We want to make one thing perfectly clear: Social Security will not send you an email asking you to give us your personal information, such as your Social Security number, date of birth, or other private information.
"If someone saying they are from Social Security does email you requesting information, don't respond to the message. Instead, contact your local Social Security office or call us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) to see whether we really need any information from you."
There's also a hotline provided by the Office of Inspector General for reporting suspicious activity. The number is 800-269-0271 (TTY: 866-501-2101).
It will help if you can provide the name given by the caller, their supposed phone number, details of when the call was made and what information the caller asked for.
Also, as we've previously recommended, if you don't have an online "my Social Security" account, you should consider setting one up -- even if you never intend to use it.
That way, scammers won't be able to set one up in your name.
You'll also be notified by email if there's been any attempt to change your account or payment details.
Earlier this year, the agency launched a new website "Social Security Administration: Protecting Your Investment," which highlights how it tackles fraud.
The site is also a source for organizations to obtain anti-fraud materials.
Alert of the Week
If you're an American Express (Amex) customer, don't be taken in by an email, which looks like the real thing, supposedly confirming a change in your email address.
The scammers behind it hope that you'll be sufficiently alarmed to click on the link it provides for updating addresses, which leads to a scam replica of a real Amex page, phishing for your account details.
The message uses an email domain address very similar to "americanexpress" but with a letter missing or the order of letters changed.
As ever, don't click these links. Go to the real site -- www.americanexpress.com -- and check your account from there.
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.