Identity theft, credit fraud, criminal impersonation. Losing your documents to an imposter may lead to permanent security issues. By the time you see the impact on your credit score, you’re already late.
Sure, you protect all your bank accounts and whatnot. But do you protect your identity in all your accounts? Most of us use the same passwords for everything. What happens when some unwanted person gets into the account?
One thing leads to another. One data breach leads thieves to find your information, which unlocks your email account, which is a great place to start looking for your sensitive data.
Yes, scammers want money. But because of how easy it is to steal information versus robbing a bank, these schemes offer a better risk-reward opportunity. You might get collector calls and alerts today, but the scammer has already been using the account for half a year.
As you see, protection-careless citizens can quickly get into ridiculous problems. Identity fraudsters have lost over $600 million in 2019. Worst of all? They could have avoided all the drama by spending a few minutes on learning to prevent Social Security Fraud.
Social Security Fraud: The Social Scam Where You Pay
The problems of social security scams cost more than we think. As citizens, we pay over a trillion dollars on unearned social benefits.
SSN Numbers give benefits as any ID document would. It’s essential to open bank accounts, get traditional jobs, approve mortgages, covering taxes, and so on.
Social Security tracks the American’s earnings and years worked. IF you find yourself in a tough situation, you may qualify for social benefits that all taxpayers cover. Healthcare, disability, or work compensation.
Social security scams stand for the group of people who misstate data to get an SSN, receiving benefits they don’t deserve.
On a large scale, citizens carry the burden of paying for every single person who lied to Social Security. But it also prevents from supporting people who need real help (because of an unfair distribution).
The reason? People somehow believe that the benefits of a single individual matter more than the social price paid.
“It’s not a big deal,” “People do it all the time,” “There’s no risk. You can live with it as long as they don’t find out.”
Now, misstatement fraud is a minority compared to identity theft. Many non-US scammers who don’t qualify for SSNs will try to steal them from you.
Modern thieves are no longer old-fashioned “money-chasers.” They prefer stealing your sensitive data, equivalent to finding a gold mine. Look at the (terrible) things that can happen:
- They take your tax refund
- You lose all your SSN benefits
- They commit crimes under your name (zero risks for them)
- Use your insurance
- Ruin your credit score
- Pass their debt onto you
Robbers want your number for convenient reasons. They even scavenge in the garbage in search of receipts and data leaks. No, they don’t need your card to know the number.
Is A Scammer Using Your Security Number?
You don’t want to find out (too late) that a stranger may have ruined your life. The best way to make sure is to run a credit report first.
Credit revisions offer a recent, accurate financial history about you. It shows your past movements, how long have you used the accounts, how have you used the credit, and whether you opened new accounts.
Although it’s not immediate, you can detect scammers by checking the inconsistencies. Credit reports are free once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Let’s say you do find a suspicious activity (someone is using your SSN). Before wondering about the consequences, freeze your credit to avoid further changes. You can file a fraud alert to tighten security; it’s not infallible, but will buy you time to stop the potential scam.
If someone has stolen your security number, you probably can’t undo the damages. However, you can request a new card if you believe yours was stolen.
A replacement will disable your previous number and assign a new card, meaning the scammer is left with a useless number. You can replace your card for free if:
- You know there’s more than a single person using the number
- You want to just replace, not modify the card data
- You have a driver’s license and ID documents to verify
Reporting To The FTC
The moment you change your SSN, the scammer can’t use it anymore. The question is: how did they get it in the first place? If you don’t address the cause, the con man may steal your (new) number again!
Types Of Social Security Scams
Now that we’ve double-checked and stopped the threat, it’s time for prevention. How can we avoid it in the future? Before reading the practical advice, it helps to learn about the many faces scammers use to pose as the SSA.
#1 Phishing Forms
Phishing, the most popular tool for identity theft (seriously, who hasn’t heard of it?). Every day, people fall into fake websites, data-tracking forms, and “government notices.” Social Security isn’t an exception.
Now, a citizen who knows the way SSA operates won’t fall for these tricks. The con man poses as an agent calling on the phone or emailing you a phishing form.
On the phone, you get a robocall asking to re-enter your SSN due to some “suspicious activity.” On email, you find a message among the same lines linked to a fake SSA website.
Phishing scammers urge you to use their methods and links. If you’d search for it directly, you’d find out it’s not true.
Phone scams are somehow easier because the victim doesn’t have that much time to think. Impostors will extort you for information using fake threats, and then take control of your accounts.
Visit our Phishing Guide to learn every hook they use to get your data.
#2 Synthetic IDs
If identity theft already offers low risk, synthetic IDs make you invisible no matter what. Think about it: if somehow you could steal all the documents to prove the ID, couldn’t you invent another “real” identity?
With some forgery skills and identity theft, you can. The catch is, a fake identity is stealing yours. The scam may never get caught.
You make up the credentials you want, steal the data you can’t fake, and voilà! Or you can mix it with other stolen accounts to make it more confusing.
That’s why everybody with SSN is a target of identity theft, wealthy or not. For the scammer, your data will likely be part of a larger scheme along with dozens of stolen numbers.
#3 The (Free) Service Requires Documents
An innovative company offers a free program for citizens. A medical test, an insurance trial program, or compensation programs. The plot is: you get privileges for being a citizen.
But stop! SSN required. You need documentation to use that service. It makes sense if your government asks for it, but not as a 3rd party. That’s like asking for your credit card for a product that costs $0.
It helps to check the history on Better Business Bureau just to make sure it’s legit. Very few institutions should know your SSN. You don’t give it directly; the company sends you an online form that verifies the number automatically (for data protection purposes).
#4 Sharing Security Numbers
One number, one name. If the person passes away (or someone steals their number), no-one has the right to collect this person’s benefits. Some exceptions include household income.
Think of the unearned benefits a scammer can get:
- Live off of someone else’s retirement income.
- Collect benefits from workers who are disabled or passed away.
- Earn benefits from multiple cards, acting under many identities at the same time.
- Steal survivor benefits from families in need
No wonder why economic benefits are lower than we would prefer.
Preventing Social Security Scams
Stick to what the Administration says: your SSN is only yours. You think you need it for some notice an impostor sent you; it’s not worth it given how hard it is to undo the problem. The consequences of a fraud cause permanent losses which may reduce your long-term benefits. The lesson? Avoid at all costs.
- Avoid sharing your number. Don’t say it out loud in public. Don’t keep a photo on the phone or a number “just to remember better.” Don’t bring it with you wherever you go.
- Protect the other data that may give access to your SSN. That stands for your ID documents, your passwords, and accounts. Whenever you get a receipt or financial history, tear it down; make it inaccessible after you’re done using it.
- Know how the SSA operates. Nobody will extort you because the card has “expired” or “blocked.” Don’t expect Social Security to reach out on email or phone unless they explicitly said so on mail. You can always contact the support number at SSA.gov for misunderstandings.
Once you’ve protected your data, you may want to upgrade your benefits program. (because why not compensate for all the hard work you do?) You can maximize your savings if you delay benefits, move to a non-taxable-SSN state, or learn how to earn more money.