The Social Security Administration (SSA) is an independent agency of the federal government that administers Social Security—an insurance program that provides financial support to those who have retired, have a disability or are collecting survivor benefits. The SSA’s goal is to help those unable to or no longer working to maintain basic well-being. About 65 million people receive Social Security benefits in the United States.
The money from Social Security comes from taxes paid by every working person in American. When you work, you pay a Social Security tax. That tax goes into a general Social Security fund used to pay those receiving Social Security benefits. The money you pay for Social Security does not go into a personal account.
Many people know Social Security as the way people get paid after retirement. While that is one of the benefits of Social Security, it only makes up a small portion of those receiving Social Security aid. The largest group receiving Social Security is children who have lost a parent. These people receive survivor benefits, meaning they're provided with financial support through Social Security since they're often too young to make money for themselves.
To receive Social Security benefits, you must earn 40 Social Security credits. You make one credit for every $1,470 you earn, but you can only gain four credits a year (most people earn 40 credits after about ten years of work). You may be able to receive Social Security benefits with less than 40 credits if you're applying for disability or survivor benefits.
If you want to receive retirement benefits, you can take Social Security early; however, your payment rates gradually increase with your age, which is why many people try to work until at least 70 years of age to receive full benefits.
Everyone born in the United States, residents, and citizens get a Social Security number (SSN). The government uses this number to track your earnings and your Social Security benefits. Your Social Security number should remain confidential—you should only share your Social Security number with legitimate businesses that need your finical information, such as employers to help track earnings or banks if you're applying for a loan.
Many scams impacting the Social Security Administration target older adults receiving retirement funds and those on Social Security. However, these scams can target anyone with a Social Security number, which is a huge number of people.
Some of the most common Social Security scams include:
Social Security phone scams are widespread. To stay safe, don't ever provide any personal information to anyone over the phone, including your SSN, bank account or credit card numbers, or passwords.
One of the most popular Social Security scams involves a scammer calling you and saying you owe money to the SSA. They'll usually request the money by gift cards, wire transfers, internet currency, or pre-paid debit cards. It's essential to know the Social Security Administration will never call you unexpectedly, and they will never ask you to pay a fine over the phone.
Like Social Security scams via phone calls, email scams will state you owe a fine to Social Security and ask you to pay the fine by sending money electronically.
You may also receive email scams if you sign up for a My Social Security account, the official online portal for the Social Security Administration. These types of email scams may ask you to sign in to your account using a fake link or may ask you to provide personal information to help solve an unknown problem on your account.
Scammers use similar tactics to phone and email scams but will instead send a message through text. The text message will usually state some problem with your Social Security and ask you to either provide personal information such as your Social Security number or ask you to pay a fine. The text may also include a fake link and ask you to follow the link and fill out personal information on a webpage.
This scam can happen to anyone with a Social Security number and is one of the most damaging scams. In an identity theft scam, a scammer gets ahold of your Social Security number and typically uses it to open a credit card account, take out a loan, or steal your Social Security benefits. The scammer can obtain your Social Security number by impersonating the Social Security Administration and asking you to provide your number through a phone call or email. They may even send you a letter in the mail directing you to a fake website.
Scammers have grown more sophisticated in recent years, making it more challenging to identify someone impersonating a Social Security Administration employee and beat the scam. Remember, the SSA won’t ever:
If there is a problem with your social security payments or your eligibility, the SSA will send you a letter as initial contact and won't call you. The Social Security Administration will only call you if you've requested a phone call or if you have ongoing business with them.
If someone calls you claiming to be with the Social Security Administration and you're unaware of why they're calling, it's a scammer, and you should hang up.
Anyone you speak with from the Social Security Administration should be polite, professional, and kind. They will never threaten you. They cannot suspend your Social Security number or arrest you, and they will not demand a payment from you.
The SSA will address any changes or problems with your Social Security benefits in a letter, never on an unsolicited phone call, text, or email. Anyone who does any of this is not with the Social Security Administration, and you should cease contact with them.
If you need to make a payment to the Social Security Administration, they will send you a letter with payment instructions. They will never ask you to pay them with gift cards, wire transfers, cash, or internet currency. If someone asks for any payment through a phone call, email, or text message, it's a scam.
If you receive contact from a scammer, report the Social Security scam right away. Don't let embarrassment stop you from reporting the scam—it's essential to report it as soon as possible, especially if you've provided someone with your Social Security number.
If you've provided someone with your Social Security number or other personal information that could lead to identity theft, report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and they'll set you up with a recovery plan.
While you can report a scam through the Social Security Administration and get help from the Federal Trade Commission, if you suspect identity fraud, there's not much aid in place to recoup the money you may have sent a scammer. Unfortunately, once you've sent someone money, you likely won't get it back.
Even though the Social Security Administration can't do much in getting money back from a scammer, they did start the National "Slam the Scam" Day in 2020. They designed this program to educate the public about government imposter phone scams after a significant rise in scams during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The goal is to provide you with resources to help you identify and avoid scams. Many of their resources are free, and you can find them online. Knowing how to identify fraud is one of the best ways to keep yourself safe.
Another precaution to limit your chances of identity theft is to keep your Social Security number confidential and your card safe. Don't carry your Social Security card with you, and don't provide your number to strangers.
The only people who need your Social Security number are legitimate businesses that deal with your finances, such as employers, credit card companies, banks, or insurance companies. If you are not actively transitioning jobs, applying for a loan or credit card, or applying for new insurance and someone asks for your Social Security number claiming to be with a legitimate business, it's likely a scam, and you should report it right away.
Not every phone call from a government agency is legit, in fact, the majority of calls that have a "Social Security Administration" caller ID are actually from scammers.
In 2020, almost $20 billion was lost to phone scammers in the U.S. alone. With 165 million robocalls being made every day, it's hard not to be targeted.
If anyone asks for payment via Amazon gift cards, it's likely a scam, especially if it's someone claiming to be from a government agency.
Whether it's the IRS, Social Security office, or a relative, be careful with anyone asking for payment via an Apple gift card—it's likely a scam.
Beating this scam is simple—don't pay for anything using gift cards and don't give anyone you don't know or trust your gift card information.
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