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April 03, 2020 | Money Matters

Beware this COVID-19-Themed Social Security Scam

 

Newly discovered scam claims suspension of Social Security benefits.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has spawned a new crop of scams designed to trick unsuspecting victims into providing sensitive information (e.g., credit card details, login credentials) and/or money to criminals in hiding. One recently discovered scam involves fraudsters tricking Social Security beneficiaries into thinking their benefits may soon cease due to the COVID-19-related closure of Social Security Administration (SSA) offices—unless special payments are made or sensitive personal information (e.g., Social Security number) is provided.

How the scam works

Social Security beneficiaries receive a seemingly legitimate-looking letter from what appears to be the SSA via U.S. Mail informing them that, due to the COVID-19-related closure of SSA offices, their benefit payments will be suspended or discontinued unless they call a phone number included in the letter and follow certain steps to remediate the situation. 

When a beneficiary calls the number included on the letter, the shakedown begins. An operator informs the beneficiary that they must either make payments via retail gift cards, wire transfers, cryptocurrency (e.g., Bitcoin), or cash or provide sensitive personal information (that could be used to commit identity theft or be sold) to ensure the benefits continue despite SSA office closures.

How to protect against this scam

Social Security benefit payouts are not in jeopardy despite SSA office closings. Like many offices around the world, SSA ones are temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 situation, but its employees continue to work remotely. Hence, Social Security benefit payments or Supplemental Security Income payments will continue as usual.

To help protect against this scam, note that, according to the SSA, they’ll never,

  • “Threaten you with benefit suspension, arrest, or other legal action unless you pay a fine or fee;
  • Promise a benefit increase or other assistance in exchange for payment;
  • Require payment by retail gift card, cash wire transfer, internet currency, or prepaid debit card;
  • Demand secrecy from you in handling a Social Security-related problem; or
  • Send official letters or reports containing personally identifiable information via mail.”

How to report this scam to Social Security

Any letter, email, phone call, or text message made to appear from the SSA claiming that there’s an issue with recipients’ Social Security number, account, or benefits should be considered highly suspicious—especially if the sender’s contact information seems unfamiliar or can’t be verified using the Office of the Inspector General for Social Security (OIG)’s website. Such communications should be reported to the OIG here. More information about such scams is available from the OIG here.

Please share this information with friends, family members, and anybody else who you think might be a target for such scam to increase the likelihood they don’t take the bait.