When the Social Security Administration calls, you pick up. But between October 2022 and June 2023, more than 55,000 people who answered calls from what they thought was the government agency said they were scammed.
Allegations of Social Security scams increased 61.7% in the quarters ending in June 2022 and June 2023, according to the Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General.
The most common tactic is simple: Scammers say they are with the SSA and ask for personal information or money.
Impostor scams gain victims' trust by appropriating federal agencies' authority, said Stacey Wood, the chair of psychology at Scripps College in Claremont, Calif. Some impersonate officials with fake IDs or use caller IDs that resemble government phone numbers.
Because Social Security is a significant income stream for older adults, they are often more likely to answer calls or respond to letters out of fear of missing something important, Wood says.
Seniors also tend to be more lucrative targets. "They have more assets, so it's just a better use of scammers' time to exploit older people," Wood says.
So how do you know if a scammer's calling? If they tell you any of these four stories, it's time to hang up.
1. Your Social Security number is suspended and they need your personal information to reactivate it. Why you should hang up: The government doesn't suspend Social Security numbers. Fraudsters are after personal information to steal your identity.
2. Your benefits are suspended and they need your Social Security number or say you need to pay a fee to get them reinstated. Why you should hang up: Both scenarios are bogus — the SSA doesn't call and ask for your Social Security number or charge you to correct your benefits.
3. You can pay a fee to increase benefits. Why you should hang up: This scam is commonly associated with the SSA's annual cost-of-living adjustment. Impostors offer to apply the increase if you pay for the service. The truth? The SSA automatically applies that increase to benefits.
4. You owe money as a penalty or a correction for overpayment. They may threaten to suspend benefits or have you arrested if you don't pay immediately. W hy you should hang up: Scammers often request payment through wire transfers, cryptocurrency, prepaid debit cards, gift cards or by mailing cash — none of which the Social Security Administration accepts. Scammers like these payment methods because they are practically impossible to trace. Vandiver writes for NerdWallet.