The scam generally starts like this. You answer a call or retrieve a voicemail message that tells you to "press 1" to speak to a government "support representative" for help in reactivating your Social Security number. The number on your caller ID looks real, so you respond. The "agent" you reach tells you that your Social Security number has been suspended due to suspicious activity or because it has been involved in a crime.
You're worried. You know how important it is to keep your Social Security number safe. So when the caller asks you to confirm this number to reactivate it, or says your bank account is about to be seized but the Social Security Administration (SSA) can safeguard it if you put your money on gift cards and provide the codes, you don't know what to do. If you balk, you may be reminded that if you don't act quickly, your accounts will be seized or frozen.
Although none of this is true (the SSA will never threaten to seize benefits or suspend numbers), many people have fallen for the Social Security imposter scam, and the numbers are rising. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), more than 76,000 reports of the Social Security imposter scam were filed between April 2018 and March 2019. Reported losses during this period were $19 million, and almost half of the reports were filed in February and March 2019.1
Here are some tips directly from the FTC to help you avoid becoming a victim.
Do not trust caller ID. Scam calls may show up on caller ID as the Social Security Administration and look like the agency's real number.
Don't give the caller your Social Security number or other personal information. If you already did, visit IdentityTheft.gov/SSA to find out what steps you can take to protect your credit and your identity.
Check with the real Social Security Administration. The SSA will not contact you out of the blue. But you can call the agency directly at (800) 772-1213 to find out if the SSA is really trying to reach you and why. (You can trust this number if you call it yourself.)
1FTC Consumer Protection Data Spotlight, April 2019