Scams trying to steal your Social Security information are on the rise. More than 35,000 people reported Social Security imposter scams to the Federal Trade Commission in 2018, up from 3,200 in 2017. As a result of this crime, consumers lost more than $10 million in 2018.
If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from the Social Security Administration, it's wise to be wary. The phone call may appear to be from the government, but thieves are behind the fraud and will ask for personal information or insist you send money.
To avoid being a victim of the suspended Social Security number scam, it's important to:
-- Understand what Social Security fraud involves.
-- Recognize red flags from callers.
-- Report any suspicious activity.
-- Take steps to protect your finances.
Follow along to see how this scam unfolds and what steps to take if you receive a suspicious call.
Know How the Suspended Social Security Number Scam Works
The suspended Social Security number scam usually begins with a phone call or robocall. Criminals will often spoof the Social Security Administration number. This makes the caller ID show a call that looks like it is from the government. When you answer, a scammer will say your Social Security number has been suspended.
The person may sound professional and will usually explain the number has been suspended because you committed a crime. The thief may also say the government has filed a lawsuit against you. "To rectify this terrifying scenario, victims are told to call a specific number, where they will be required to provide their personal information," says Paige Schaffer, CEO of global identity and digital protection services at Generali Global Assistance in Bethesda, Maryland. Scammers may also say you need to pay a fine to end the lawsuit and recover your Social Security number.
The scam may take on several variations. "In a slightly less frightening version of the scam, victims are told their Social Security number has been suspended due to 'suspicious activity,'" Schaffer says. To un-suspend the number, the scammer will say you need to be connected to a Social Security representative. You'll be asked to share personal information, such as stating the last four digits of your Social Security number to make sure it matches. You may be told to send money too.
Ultimately, the scammer's goal is to get your personal information. In addition to your Social Security number, this could include your birthday, bank account number or home address. The thief will typically want a payment from you to reactivate your Social Security number. "Victims have reported being told they can make payments via wire transfers or gift cards," Schaffer says.
Spot the Social Security Fraud Red Flags
If you receive a call informing you that your Social Security number has been suspended, you can rest assured it is not true. Social Security numbers do not get suspended. "Any call that states your Social Security number is under suspension is a scam," says Robert Siciliano, a cybersecurity expert for ETF Managers Group in Summit, New Jersey. Thieves are hoping you'll be scared and turn to them when they offer help. "In reality these scammers are trying to steal your information," Siciliano says.
While the SSA may make phone calls, the organization states its employees will never threaten you for information. SSA employees won't say you could be arrested if you don't share your personal banking records and do not make threats about taking legal action if you fail to answer their questions. The SSA doesn't ask for payment to be made in gift cards either.
Take Steps to Protect Your Personal Information
If you receive a call that appears to be from the SSA, but aren't sure what to do, begin by hanging up. "Look up the publicly listed number for this agency and call them back directly at that number," says Jason Glassberg, co-founder of Casaba Security in Redmond, Washington.
After getting a scam call, look at your phone's blocking feature. "If at all possible, block that number to prevent it from calling you back," Schaffer says. You can also report the issue to the Federal Trade Commission by filing an imposter scam complaint online.
[Read: How to Avoid Medicare Scams.]
Don't Share Your Social Security Number
To keep your identity and retirement funds safe, avoid sharing your Social Security number with strangers, even if they appear professional, friendly or helpful. "Unlike the scammers' claims, the Social Security number never expires, never dies," Glassberg says. "Anyone who loses their Social Security number to a criminal could be victimized for the rest of their life. It's very serious."
Even if you get a call that sounds like it's not a fake, it's good practice to not give your Social Security number to anyone who calls and asks for it. "Instead, hang up and go on with your day," Siciliano says.