Thousands of Americans receive Social Security benefits. Social Security benefits go out to elderly citizens, children of deceased parents, and disabled individuals. These are often vulnerable groups of people. Criminals use Social Security usage as a reason to reach out to these individuals and get personal information, such as their Social Security number, debit card information, or bank account number. Social Security scams may include fear tactics, as well. Individuals may get threatened with losing their benefits or promised better benefits.
Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA)
Social Security benefit amounts change each year due to the increase in the cost of living. The cost of living adjustment (COLA) gets calculated each year and added to Social Security payouts automatically. The Social Security Administration (SSA) sends out letters to recipients to let them know how much more they can expect starting in the new year.
A fairly new scam involves letters made to look like they came from the Social Security office. These letters ask recipients to call a fraudulent phone number to activate their COLA. Recipients become worried about missing out on their monthly income and the increase. The scammers hope the recipients freely give money or personal information, such as debit or bank account information. These letters may have names of SSA officials, which scammers can find on the internet.
Social Security does call recipients occasionally. The main form of communication, however, remains letters. As with the fraudulent letters, imposters may call and ask for personal information to continue with benefits. Social Security, however, never asks for payment over the phone or threatens individuals with loss of benefits. If the person on the phone sounds demanding or asks for personal information, hang up and report the phone number. You can prevent fraud by not sharing personal information when receiving a phone call and reporting suspicious phone numbers.
Threats and Services
Criminals use many tactics to get people to give them money. Individuals receiving Social Security often need the money for their basic needs. Scammers know these recipients may feel afraid of losing their main source of income. This fear makes it easier to manipulate them. SSA provides services to support some of the most vulnerable citizens. The organization does not charge money for any of these services. If a person calls or writes with threats to take your benefits or Social Security number away, they do not belong to the SSA.
Signs to Look Out For
Sometimes you need to look closely at the details of letters and emails to find out if you may become a victim of fraud. With internet access, people can easily find the format of letters and emails from a specific organization. Your fraudulent SSA letter may look very similar to real ones. Letters from SSA never ask you for money for services. Most Social Security letters simply inform recipients of benefits and changes to their accounts. You can check the phone number if you get a call, as well. If the phone number doesn’t match the main number or one of the office locations, you may have a criminal on the line. Report fraud if you notice any of the following signs.
- Email or text message asking for personal information
- Letter asking the recipient to pay fees
- Threats to take your Social Security number or benefits away
- Threats to impose legal action if money is not sent
- Asking for payment with specific transactions, such as bank wires, prepaid cards, or cash
- Threats to seize your bank account
You may simply notice something doesn’t look right with a letter or email, as well. Scammers often make grammatical or formatting errors. If you receive notices regularly, a new form with unfamiliar numbers may also catch your attention. If anything makes you uncomfortable during communication, call the SSA yourself and validate the information.
SSA provides funds for many different reasons. Some benefits go to the elderly and disabled. Elderly people often become the target of scams since they may not stay up to date on the newest warnings and tactics. If you know someone on Social Security, help them navigate the system so they know what to expect. If you are on Social Security, speak with your caseworker about routine protocols and benefits management. You can always call and talk to a representative if you get a letter or email to verify the information. Never give money to anyone for Social Security benefits.