April is National Social Security Awareness month, and a good time to get up to speed on the latest scams targeting your Social Security number (SSN) and the resulting fraud that occurs. In 2019, government imposter scams were at an all-time high, with the majority of imposters pretending to be from the Social Security Administration (SSA). The new twist in 2020 comes as scammers capitalize on the coronavirus outbreak and the ongoing media coverage of COVID-19 and its impact on society and the economy.
The senior population has been declared the most vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic — not only to the virus but also to scams. Fraudsters are layering coronavirus themes into their tried and true elderly scams, often with a heightened sense of urgency. The median loss to people 70 and older is $9,000 from imposter scams— that is, when scammers use phone calls, text messages, and emails to pretend to be someone else to steal retirement savings, Social Security payments, and sensitive personal and financial information. The economic impact payments related to the CARES act (the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) present yet another opportunity for bad actors to get between victims and their expected payments this year.
Accessing Your Benefits During Coronavirus Pandemic
Starting March 17, 2020, Social Security Administration offices have closed, and all future in-person appointments have been canceled to protect the senior population during the coronavirus pandemic. The SSA is not suspending or decreasing Social Security benefit payments or Supplemental Security Income payments. Online services are still available, but be wary of clicking on links in phishing emails pretending to be from the SSA. Visit the SSA directly at https://www.ssa.gov/ to avoid being directed to phishing websites designed to fraudulently collect your information.
If you receive Social Security benefits, you are also eligible to receive up to $1,200 as a government stimulus check — a major target for fraudsters. Keep in mind, your economic impact payment will be directly deposited into the bank account used for your tax returns in 2018-2019, or a check will be mailed to your home. The IRS will not call you, text you, or email you for more information, and you will receive a letter in the mail 15 days after your payment has been issued with instructions on what to do if you have not received it or have any issues.
Scams Targeting Your SSN
The Social Security Administration is warning Social Security benefits recipients of scams during the COVID-19 crisis. Scammers may pose as the U.S. Treasury Department, the Internal Revenue Service, the Social Security Administration, and other government agencies through phone calls, emails, text messages, or other communications to collect your personal information and Social Security number. Disregard any requests for personal financial information, an advance fee, or charges of any kind, including the purchase of gift cards.
Beware of nine coronavirus scams targeting your identity, including your personal, financial, and medical information:
Threats to suspend benefits
Calls to verify Medicare numbers
Offers for COVID-19 related grants or economic impact payments
Fake investment and charitable organizations
Imposter family members
Phony home inspectors from the CDC
Sham sellers of coronavirus testing kits, protection, and vaccines
Bogus offers for hard to obtain household supplies
Offering to help run errands
Social Security Scams Lead to Identity Theft
When criminals get their hands on your Personally Identifiable Information (PII), they can use your sensitive data to commit credit card fraud and tax fraud. With tax deadlines extended until July 15, 2020, scammers now have more time to file tax forms using stolen information to collect tax returns. The identity theft may also escalate to medical identity theft, where a fraudster uses your sensitive information to receive free medical care, goods, or prescription drugs.
In these days of COVID-19 concerns, scammers can be particularly compelling, and it’s more important than ever to check in with your elderly friends and neighbors by phone or video chat, to warn them of these coronavirus scams.
Tips to Protect Your Social Security Number
Never share personal information through unsolicited phone calls. Remind your loved ones that they should never give personal, financial, or medical information over the phone.
Don’t believe your caller ID. Scammers can spoof phone numbers to show up on your phone, disguising who they really are. Don’t make any decision to share information with a caller based on what the caller ID says.
Keep important documents stored safely. Store documents containing your Social Security number and other personal and medical information in a safe, locked place.
Report Social Security scams. If you think you are the victim of a scam, file a report with the SSA Inspector General online at oig.ssa.gov.
If you are worried about Tax Identity Theft, you can request an Identity Protection PIN from the IRS, as well as file an Identity Theft Affidavit if your return is rejected as a duplicate filing.
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