Welcome to the Senior Scam Alert, a column designed to inform seniors of scams and cons that are regularly committed against them. Seniors are victims of cons more often than any other age group. People over 65 are targeted for scams more than any other age group, and account for 56% of all fraud cases, even though they are only about 13% of the US population.
Phony Social Security Scams
Beware of Social Security Scams! The Social Security Administration and the Better Business Bureau have both issued alerts for seniors regarding multiple social security scams. Here are some examples;
1. Mail Scams:
Scammers will usually send out a newsletter or other official-looking document, often with the words “social security” or government insignia. The scam asks the victim to “confirm” personal information, such as social security number, date of birth, and bank account information (for direct deposit). This information is then used for identity theft. If you are unsure about the origin of a document, call your local social security office, or go online at http://www.ssa.gov.
2. Phone Scams:
One scam involves telephone fraud. An identity thief will call senior citizens, posing as a government employee. They will ask for personal information, or for the recipient’s direct deposit information. Sometimes, the recipient is told their Social Security benefits are being cut because they have inherited a house from a relative. The scam artists will then ask for money to pay a bogus “tax bill”.
3. Phony Document Preparation:
Another scam has to do with “document preparation” or bogus “security checks” on their social security account. They will charge a fee for obtaining a social security number for a child, which is actually free at any local social security office. The caller might offer to set up a “security check” on their SSA account, alerting them to any fraud that might occur. This is also a bogus scam designed to cheat seniors out of their money. Senior citizens and non-English speakers are the most common victims of this scam.
4. Drug Enrollment Program Scams:
A new variation of these scams has to do with prescription drug plans. Callers will offer to enroll victim in bogus prescription drug plans, or official “discount plans”. They will ask for personal information, and credit card information. They will then charge the credit card or use the information for identity theft.
Remember, you should never give out your social security number or bank information to anyone over the phone, unless you initiated the call, and you are sure the number is correct. The Social Security office will never send you documents requesting your social security information—they already have it!
According to the Office of the Inspector General, there are some instances where an SSA employee will officially contact you. If an SSA employee should officially ever contact you, the SSA employee will not ask you to provide your Social Security number, date of birth, or other identifiers. If the caller does ask for this information, hang up and report the call immediately as fraudulent.
If you are unsure as to the authenticity of someone who claims to be an SSA employee, please call SSA’s toll-free number (1-800-772-1213) to verify the reason for the contact and the person’s identity prior to providing any information to the caller. If you feel that you have been a victim of fraud, contact the Office of the Inspector General, at 1-800-269-0271. (If you are deaf or hard of hearing, call the OIG TTY number at 1-866-501-2101.) A Public Fraud Reporting form is also available online at OIG’s Website: http://www.ssa.gov/oig/.
Do not be afraid or embarrassed to report fraud! Remember; if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
Sources: Better Business Bureau, US Social Security Administration, US Office of the Inspector General
Christine P Silva, BA, CRTP, lives in California with her husband, two children, and three spoiled cats. She earned her undergraduate degree from San Jose State University, and her advanced accounting certificate and tax license from Cosumnes River College. She is the founder of the Sacramento Volunteer Tax Preparation Clinic, a free service offering tax assistance to low income and Spanish-speaking taxpayers.
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