SEVERAL MONTHS AGO, I received a phone call that left me shaken and bewildered. The voice on the other end claimed to be from the Social Security Administration. The caller informed me that my Social Security number had been compromised in a significant security breach. My heart raced as I contemplated the potential consequences, even as the urgency in the caller’s voice gave me little time to think.
The caller asked for my personal information, including my Social Security number, date of birth and bank account details. Struggling to maintain composure, I hesitated. A glimmer of suspicion arose, but the anxiety of the situation clouded my judgment. With trembling fingers, I began to provide the information the caller requested.
Fortunately, just before I could divulge my banking information, a tiny voice within me screamed to stop. The realization struck like a lightning bolt—I was about to fall victim to a scam. I hung up and took a deep breath. The situation slowly sank in, and I realized I’d narrowly escaped a potentially devastating financial and personal security breach.
In the aftermath, I set out to understand the tactics employed by these scammers and how I could safeguard myself against future incidents. What I discovered was both eye-opening and disturbing. Social Security scams have become increasingly sophisticated, preying on people’s fears and vulnerabilities.
Social Security scams often involve perpetrators who impersonate Social Security Administration (SSA) officials and use scare tactics to manipulate victims. The scammers might claim that your Social Security number has been compromised, that your benefits are in danger or that you owe money to the government. These tactics create a sense of urgency and panic, pushing victims into making hasty decisions.
How can you protect yourself? Here are six lessons I learned:
1. Stay calm. Scammers thrive on creating panic and urgency. It’s crucial to remain composed and not let fear cloud your judgment. If a caller claims to be from the SSA and demands immediate action, take a deep breath and assess the situation.
2. Verify the caller’s identity. The SSA will rarely, if ever, call you out of the blue. If you receive a call, ask for the caller’s name, badge number and a callback number. Hang up and then independently verify the caller’s identity by going to the SSA website and finding an official agency phone number to call.
3. Protect personal information. Never share your Social Security number, bank account details or any other sensitive information over the phone with someone you don’t know. Legitimate institutions won’t ask for such information over the phone.
4. Use two-factor authentication. If you have online access to your Social Security account, enable two-factor authentication for an extra layer of security. This ensures that, even if scammers have your password, they won’t be able to access your account without the additional authentication step.
5. Educate yourself. Take the time to educate yourself and your loved ones about various scams, including Social Security scams. Awareness is the first line of defense against these schemes.
6. Report suspicious activity. If you get a suspicious call or believe a scam has targeted you, report it to the Federal Trade Commission and the SSA. Your report could help prevent others from becoming victims.
Lyle Solomon has been a member of the California State Bar since 2003. He graduated in 1998 from the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, and currently works for the Oak View Law Group in California as a principal attorney.