Financial volatility can affect older adults in particularly negative ways. Inflation can reduce savings, further stressing your budget as you prepare to retire. The last thing you need is financial difficulty from a Social Security scammer.
What Are the Common Types of Social Security Scams?
Social Security scammers are devious. They will use several different methods to separate older adults from their money. Sometimes, they will directly impersonate a Social Security official. In other cases, scammers might attempt to steal from older adults without ever speaking directly with them. Phishing emails, text messages, and even paper mail are sometimes effective to trick unsuspecting older adults.
Fraudulent Phone Calls
Many scam phone calls don’t sound fraudulent at all. Sophisticated Social Security scammers can make calls sound sincere, even urgent. They will pretend to be Social Security representatives, often calling to alert you of a pretend issue with your account.
On the phone, Social Security scammers will say things that real Social Security employees never would. They might threaten to end your Social Security benefits unless you take immediate action. They might also request payment through gift cards or PayPal. If you ever suspect that a call might be fraudulent, hang up. Dial the Social Security Administration directly to verify the call.
Some Social Security scammers will use less direct methods to attempt scams. One popular method, phishing emails, are fake emails that often appear legitimate. Fraudulent actors create email addresses and official wording to make the email look like it was sent by the SSA.
Most phishing emails contain an attractive link. This link often sends you to a website, where you’re encouraged to submit personal information. Depending on the email, you might be asked to submit bank details, passwords, or Social Security numbers.
Paper mail Social Security scams are particularly dangerous for seniors. Scammers will often mail fake documents, meant to look like real government letters, to older adults’ homes. Letters might make demands for money or personal information.
Paper mail Social Security scams are similar in many ways to other forms of SSA fraud. They are typically unsolicited and request payment through wire transfer or specific gift cards. Many letters are poorly made, and contain spelling or grammatical mistakes throughout.
How To Protect Yourself From Social Security Fraud
No matter your age, Social Security scams are still a threat. It’s important to be aware of popular Social Security tricks and how to defend yourself. Staying up-to-date on the latest forms of fraud can help minimize the chances of scammer success.
Here are a few ways to protect yourself against Social Security fraud:
- Ignore unsolicited messages: Do not answer or maintain calls from people claiming to represent a government agency or the Social Security Administration.
- Verify caller identities: Before continuing any conversation, make sure that the person you are speaking with is a verified representative of an agency. If you suspect fraud, you can hang up and call the agency directly to verify the caller.
- Keep personal information private: Do not share any private information through a phone call, email, text message, or paper mail. This information includes usernames, passwords, security questions, bank information, and Social Security details.
- Avoid unorthodox payment methods: Never transfer funds to a caller or email sender through a suspect payment method. Avoid purchasing gift cards, wiring checks, or sending money through social media if you have not verified their identity.
- Pursue frequent, ongoing education: Learn more about recent Social Security scams and teach your family members how to recognize them.
Given the frequency of online Social Security scams, it’s also important to update your computer. Install a firewall and antivirus software on any device — phone, tablet, or desktop — that can access your Social Security account.
How To Report Social Security Scammers
When you suspect a Social Security scam, don’t wait. Reporting Social Security fraud helps protect yourself and others from similar losses.
Contact the Office of the Inspector General with details of the Social Security scam. Include details like the caller’s name, phone number or email address, their script, and any other useful information. File a report with the Federal Trade Commission if someone has used your Social Security details without your permission.
Other Scams That Target Retirees
Retirement is typically a period of financial security, where people reduce their workload and enjoy life. This makes retirees ideal targets for scammers who want to steal large amounts of money.
Scams targeting retirement-age individuals are on the rise. They can take many forms — including health insurance fraud and reverse mortgage fraud — and can create serious financial loss.
Medicare/Health Insurance Fraud
Scammers sometimes pose as Medicare employees to cheat retirees out of their savings. They will call an older adult without warning, often claiming that there is a problem with their health insurance coverage. To fix that problem, they say they need to confirm a few pieces of personal information.
If the older adult provides that personal information, a scammer can use it to access their finances and withdraw funds.
In other cases, scammers will call retirees pretending to sell discounted Medicare services. People who volunteer their bank information over the phone or email can quickly become victims of identity theft.
There’s no shortage of internet scams that target retirees. Some use viruses that steal information from computers or smartphones. These viruses can enter a computer through a variety of methods, from email attachments to physical flash drives.
Others use fake pop-up messages that trick retirees into believing that their device has a problem. The pop-ups typically contain a virus, released after someone clicks the message. If the pop-up itself doesn’t contain a virus, it can still lock the device and prompt a call to a specific phone number. On the other end of that phone number is a fraudulent actor who tricks the caller into providing personal information.
Older adults with access to retirement savings often want to invest — and scammers know it. They will operate a variety of investment schemes, meant to sound legitimate until retirees lose their money.
Ponzi schemes are perhaps the most common form of investment scam. Scammers ask retirees for an investment, promising high returns in a short time span. Any invested money goes to earlier “investors” to create the appearance of a successful company. Investors lose money when the scheme fails.
Many scammers also pretend to be certified investors. They will call and offer to invest a retiree’s money in promising stocks. However, they first ask for a deposit. Once the deposit is paid, the criminals vanish with the money.
Reverse Mortgage Scams
Reverse mortgage schemes are also a growing threat, particularly for older adults looking to access home equity. Dishonest mortgage brokers will commonly offer a reverse mortgage opportunity to older adults for an extremely limited time. Unlike an ethical reverse mortgage — with which buyers can supplement income through home equity — reverse mortgage scams force seniors into a hasty decision. Once the deal is done, they are locked into high-interest payments.
Education is the best defense against reverse mortgage schemes. Retirees should study reverse mortgages so they know what to expect from their interest rate, legal agreements, and total equity. Older adults should also consider all available reverse mortgage options before deciding on a provider.
Reverse mortgage borrower must occupy home as primary residence and remain current on property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, the costs of home maintenance, and any HOA fees.
This information is intended to be general and educational in nature and should not be construed as financial advice. Consult your financial advisor before implementing financial strategies for your retirement.