Social Security Phone Scams: Everything You Need to Know
Nine digits. That's all someone needs to ruin your entire life. Your Social Security number (SSN) is the nine-digit number the United States government gives all American citizens and residents. It could quite possibly be the most important piece of information you own — and cybercriminals will do anything to get it.
Your SSN is a bit like the golden ticket in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." It gives you access to all kinds of things. Without a SSN, you can't work. You can't enroll in Medicare. You can't get a driver's license. You can't apply for a passport. Most banks require a SSN before they open an account. Most government departments require a SSN before you receive public assistance. The list is endless.
It's safe to say, then, that a SSN is pretty important. No, really important. You can't really live a normal life in the US without one. And this is exactly why cybercriminals want one so bad. Here's the thing: If someone gets hold of your SSN, they can use it to do all of the things above — open a bank account, apply for a passport, start work, receive public assistance, you name it.
SSNs aren't easily replaced. If yours is stolen, someone else could use it for years and years — and you might not even know about it. At first, you won't notice much. But, over time, you'll discover that things are not what they seem. Once a cybercriminal has your SSN, they can do the following things:
- Open a bank account in your name.
- Start working in your name.
- Apply for a passport.
- Receive public assistance.
- Receive Medicare and other healthcare benefits.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Social Security fraud is a real thing, and it's going on right now. By the time you finish reading this guide, cybercriminals will have stolen hundreds of more SSNs from hard-working Americans like you.
A lot of Social Security fraud happens like this:
- Someone calls you from a spoofed, or fake, caller ID.
- They pretend to be from your bank or the government or another genuine organization.
- They trick you into handing over your SSN, otherwise face criminal charges or jail time.
"But this wouldn't happen to me," we hear you say. "I'm far too smart for that." Well, Social Security phone scams are far more common than you think, and all kinds of people fall victim to them, including really smart people. This is because scammers are so sophisticated, they can make you believe almost anything.
Sometimes, it takes just a few minutes. Foreign scammers often spoof numbers to make it look like they are calling from the US. They are slick, calculating, and deceptive, so it's easy to believe what they are saying is true. Most of the time, you just don't know whether the caller is genuine or not...
...But there's an easy way to tell.
RoboKiller's Phone Lookup service provides you with all the information you need. Just enter the number of any unknown caller and find out in seconds whether it's a scammer or not. It's 100 percent free. Don't believe us? Go on, try it now...
Once you've done that, download RoboKiller's app here. This blocks scammers from reaching you in the first place, so you can reduce your chances of becoming another victim of social security fraud.
As you can see, Social Security fraud is totally preventable. You just need to take a few small steps in order to protect yourself from scammers.
- Tell Me More About SSNs!
- How Social Security Scams Really Work?
- What Are the Different Types of Social Security Scams?
- How to Spot a Security Scam Call
- What You Should Do If You Receive a Social Security Spam Call
- What is the Government Doing About These Scams?
- Phone Lookup
Tell Me More About SSNs!
As we mentioned, your SSN is the nine-digit number the government gives you to do all the things you need to do as a US citizen or resident — open a bank account, work, apply for benefits, etc.
SSNs were issued shortly after FDR's Social Security Act of 1935, which provided Americans with a new financial safeguard in the form of retirement, disability, and survivor's insurance, as well as supplementary security income. For the first time, many Americans had a safety net if they lost their job.
To make all of this work, the government needed to issue SSNs nine-digit numbers that tracked Americans' earning records over their lifetime. It's a little bit more complicated than that, and we won't bore you with the details, but just know that SSNs are very, very important. Today, SSNs have been issued to more than 450 million people in the US.
Although it's just one (kinda long) number, SSNs are actually made up of three different parts:
- The area number.
- The group number.
- The serial number.
The area number is the first three digits of your SSN, and it refers to the Social Security Administration (SSA) office that assigned you the SSN in the first place. Many cybercriminals might already know your area number because you often use this to confirm your identity over the phone with banks and government departments.
"Can you confirm the first three digits of your Social Security number, please?" is something that you've probably heard before. But sometimes, this information gets into the wrong hands...
If cybercriminals already know your area number, they have the first piece of the jigsaw that is your SSN. Now, all they need is the group number and serial number.
The next two digits of your SSN are just there for administrative purposes. These numbers make it easier for the SSA to identify you. However, once cybercriminals know these two numbers, they are well on their way to finding out your entire SSN.
The serial number is the final four numbers of your SSN and ranges from 0001 to 9999. Again, it's just used by the SSA to identify you, but it's still dangerous if this number falls into the wrong hands...
As you can see, your SSN doesn't really say anything about you. So, how can scammers use it to open an account? Or start work? Or apply for government assistance?
Did you know that the government assigns 5.5 million new SSNs every single year?
Once someone knows your SSN, they can use it to carry out a background check. In other words, they run your SSN against government databases to find out more information about you. By law, only people with a verified reason can check these databases, such as an educational institution or your employer. But, really, there's no stopping anyone from checking these databases — including cybercriminals and identity thieves.
This is why your SSN is so important. By itself, it might not look like much. But, when pieced together with other information, it can be used to do all sorts of things. And you really don't want this to happen.
Has someone called you and asked you for your SSN? Want to find out who they REALLY are? Check out RoboKiller's Phone Lookup service and find out in seconds...
How Do Social Security Scams Really Work?
The phone rings. It's the IRS. They say you are due a tax refund. They ask you for your SSN so they can find your details on their system. But wait... Why are they asking you for this information?
The above scenario could be genuine. Perhaps someone really is calling from the IRS. Perhaps you really do have a tax refund. Perhaps the IRS really does need your SSN to confirm your details.
But what if it's a scammer? Maybe it's someone trying to steal your details. Your money. Your entire identity.
So how do you know for sure?
This is the predicament many people face when they receive a call from an unknown number. Sure, it could be from someone genuine. But it could be from a scammer. A phony. A fake. Sometimes, it's just too hard to tell.
Did you know that Social Security scams make up 10 percent of ALL fraud phone calls in the US?
Social security scams are so successful because the caller seems so genuine. They probably sound professional. And serious. Here's the thing: Scammers want you to think this so they can steal your SSN.
The above scenario is just one type of social security phone scam. The reality is, there are all different kinds of SSN swindles, which makes it even difficult to spot the red flags.
If in doubt, just check RoboKiller's Phone Lookup. You can tell whether the caller is genuine in just a few simple steps, and it won't cost you any money at all.
What Are the Different Types of Social Security Scams?
Social Security phone scams are ever-changing, but here are some of the most popular ones to look out for right now...
SCAM 1: Your SSN Has Been Suspended
This is one of the most common SSN scams, and it's easy to see why. In this scam, the caller will tell you that your SSN has been suspended. They will claim they are calling from the SSA and that, due to fraudulent or criminal activity, they have had to suspend your SSN. The funny thing is, the caller is one who is committing the fraudulent and criminal activity!
There might be two possible outcomes to this scam:
- The caller might ask you to confirm your SSN and then use this information to carry out identity fraud.
- The caller might ask you to pay a fee in order to "unlock" your SSN. Often, you will be asked to pay money via wire transfer, PayPal, or gift cards. If you do this, it's unlikely you'll see this money ever again.
It's important to remember that the SSA will never suspend your SSN. Despite what the caller insists, the SSA won't block your number. Or freeze it. It's just a huge scam.
"One common tactic involves fake SSA employees calling people with warnings that their Social Security numbers have been linked to criminal activity and suspended," says AARP. "This con is sometimes executed via robocall — the recording provides a number for you to call to remedy the problem."
SCAM 2: Your SSN Has Been Compromised
This is kind of similar to the "Your SSN has been suspended" hoax. In this scam, the caller will tell you that your SSN has been compromised because of a data breach and that you need to take action. The caller might be an automated voice or a real person — it all depends.
Again, there are two outcomes to this scam:
- The caller attempts to steal your full SSN.
- The caller attempts to steal your money.
Neither of these outcomes is good.
People often believe this scam because, the truth is, your SSN can be compromised at any time. You've read the headlines about all of those companies and government organizations who have experienced data breaches in the last few years and, unfortunately, it could happen to you, too.
However, the SSA would never call you to tell you this personally. Nor would they ask you for money.
Did you know that Social Security scams cost Americans a whopping $19 million in 2018 alone?
SCAM 3: Your Bank Account is at Risk
This is a slight variation on the "Your SSN has been compromised" scam. In this scenario, a caller pretending to be from your bank will tell you that your account is at risk because criminals have stolen your SSN.
Yet again, there are two common outcomes:
- The caller asks you to confirm your SSN and uses this for identity fraud.
- The caller asks you to pay money for some kind of service.
Your bank would never call you out of the blue if your SSN has been stolen. In fact, it's unlikely that your bank would even know about this if it really did happen.
If you receive one of these calls, just head over to RoboKiller's Phone Lookup service and check the number. You will be able to tell if the caller is the real deal in a few seconds...
How to Spot a Social Security Scam Call
As scammers become more sophisticated in their methods, it is increasingly hard to tell whether calls you receive are genuine or not. However, there are some signs you should look out for:
- As a general rule, you will never ever receive a call from the SSA unless you have recently been in contact with the organization. The SSA will not notify you that your SSN number has been frozen or compromised over the phone.
- If someone calls you and asks you for your SSN, this is a huge red flag. The SSA will already have this information and won't ask you to confirm it for "security purposes" or any other reason.
- If someone calls you and asks you for your personal or financial information, it's likely to be a scammer. Again, the SSA will not ask you to confirm this information for "security purposes" or any other reason.
- If someone calls you late at night and claims to be from the SSA, it's likely a scammer. The SSA will only contact you during working hours.
- If someone calls you and claims to be from the SSA, and then asks you to make payment via wire transfer or PayPal, this is likely to be a scam call. The SSA doesn't accept payment via these methods.
What You Should Do If You Receive a Social Security Spam Call
If you receive a call from someone who claims to be from the SSA (or your bank), there are a number of steps you can take. However, this will depend on whether you ignore or answer the call.
If you ignore the call:
- Run the number through RoboKiller's Phone Lookup database to verify the identity of the caller.
- If RoboKiller verifies the caller is a scammer, block the number.
- Download the RoboKiller app from the App Store or Google Play to prevent calls like this from reaching you in the future.
- If RoboKiller verifies the caller is genuine, contact the SSA (or your bank) on the number listed on their website.
If you answer the call:
- Look out for the red flags listed in the previous section. If something seems strange, it probably is, so just hang up the phone and block the number.
- After the call, run the number you received through RoboKiller's Phone Lookup database, which contains the most recent numbers from scammers. This way, you can make sure the call you received is genuine.
- Download the RoboKiller app to prevent calls like this from reaching you in the future.
- If RoboKiller's Phone Lookup verifies the caller is a scammer, and you handed over your SSN or any other financial or personal information to the caller, contact the SSA (or your bank) on the number listed on their website.
- You can also check your personal Social Security account online here and see if any changes have been made to your account.
- You might also want to contact law enforcement.
As a general rule, it's best not to answer unknown calls at all. If you ignore unwanted calls, you can always check the number on the Phone Lookup service afterward. If a call is genuine, you can return the call or wait for the person to call you again.
Sometimes, this just isn't possible. You might be waiting for a call from an unknown number, and a scammer might happen to call in the meantime. Still, follow the best practices above to prevent becoming a victim of a Social Security scam or any other type of fraud.
Did you know that Social Security phone scams are on the rise? They increased 23 percent from 2018-2019!
What is the Government Doing About These Scams?
It is difficult for the government to stop Social Security phone scams for various reasons.
- Many scammers operate from outside the US, which makes it difficult for law enforcement to catch them.
- Scammers use clever software that generates thousands of phone numbers, which are difficult to block.
- Scammers use autodialers and contact millions of Americans every single day, making the problem widespread.
- Scammers use neighborhood spoofing or caller ID spoofing to hide their real numbers and make it appear like they are calling from local numbers.
Here's what the FTC has to say about this issue:
"People pretend to be from the SSA and try to get your SSN or your money. That scam is now growing exponentially. To compare: in 2017, we heard from 3,200 people about SSA imposter scams, and those people reported losing nearly $210,000. [In 2018], more than 35,000 people have reported the scam, and they tell us they’ve lost $10 million."
As a result of SSN scams and other types of fraud, some phone carriers now notify customers if they suspect a call might be from a scammer. Using the SHAKEN/STIR framework, initiated by the FCC, carriers display a "Scam-Likely" message on customers' caller IDs if they believe a fraudster is trying to reach someone. However, this technology is still in its early stages and isn't without its critics, who claim that it's inaccurate and doesn't prevent spam calls from reaching people in the first place.
Phone Lookup is the best way to check whether the calls you receive are legit. This free service provides you with a wealth of information about scammers, including the following:
- Whether a call is genuine or not.
- How many calls have been received from a scam number.
- The most common scam numbers in the last hour.
- The most common scam numbers over the last 24 hours.
Using Phone Lookup, alongside the RoboKiller app, is the best way to keep your personal information safe from scammers who are trying to steal your SSN and other information.