Social Security Scams

We're all familiar with robocalls by now. Unfortunately, our senior population is going to be more susceptible to falling prey to these kinds of scams in particular. Older adults, particularly those experiencing dementia or memory loss, may be more likely to pick up the phone even when it's an unknown number and engage with the robocall or scammer on the other side. When that happens, it's possible that they may believe what's being said in the fraudulent call.

One of the scams reported on earlier this year was Social Security phone call scams. The Social Security Administration (SSA) became aware that fraudulent phone calls were being made with the caller claiming to be from the SSA. They would then use threatening language to coerce either sensitive information or money from the victim, such as by threatening that their benefits would disappear if they did not comply with the caller's instructions.

In April of this year, the Inspector General warned the public that there's an ongoing scam involving "spoofing", or pretending to call from, the Social Security Fraud Hotline phone number. In May 2019, the IG warned about scam callers impersonating the Social Security Advisory Board. The callers generally attempt to obtain the victim's Social Security number over the phone by pretending to be someone trustworthy from the SSA.

Know that the Social Security Administration, like other government departments, will not attempt to elicit sensitive personal information over the phone. Communication with these departments is frequently in writing or in person, partially to prevent this exact type of fraud and partially to maintain records of events.

In addition, if anyone claiming to be a government employee has called and is using threatening language with you, recognize this as a likely red flag. Either request to speak to someone else, or hang up and call back on a trusted, verified phone number, for example: the contact numbers listed on the department's website. Get the caller's name, if possible, and report them to that department or, if you suspect fraud, to the Inspector General via their website.

Older adults are particularly vulnerable to these types of scams for a variety of reasons. The top reason may be memory issues, dementia, or other ongoing illness. They may forget the signs to watch out for, or fear tactics may be more effective for someone who is already vulnerable.

Learn to recognize the signs of a scam. Help your older loves ones understand what to look out for. Many older adults aren't comfortable or familiar with the rapid changes taking place in technology. This may make them more prone to clicking on a suspicious link in an email or navigating to a suspicious website. Tech companies are making strides in identifying suspicious behavior and flagging it for most users, but we already know that it will be an ongoing battle to keep up with the changes criminals make. Robocalls continue to evolve with sophistication with many sounding much more legitimate - and by all accounts, phone companies and the FCC have not found a reliable way to stop them.

Help your older loved ones understand what to watch out for so they don't fall victim to one of these scams targeting senior citizens, and know what to look out for so you can avoid them as well.