When times get tough financially, scammers come out of the woodwork.

One of their favorite targets—people worried about Social Security. Scammers know that Social Security recipients (and future recipients) will do almost anything to protect their current or future benefits. To protect yourself, watch out for these scams…

SCAMS THAT TARGET EVERYONE

  • Change-of-address scam. You receive a notice that purports to be from the Social Security Administration (SSA) confirming a change of address for where your future Social Security benefits checks will be sent (or a change of bank account where your future benefits checks will be direct deposited). Trouble is, you have not moved and did not authorize any change. When you call the toll-free number listed on the notice, a person who claims to be an SSA representative explains that someone is trying to steal your identity, but that the representative can help you sort it out.

The scam: Someone is trying to steal your identity—the phony SSA representative who claims to want to help. The change-of-address notice was sent by a con artist, and the toll-free number listed on it connected you with this crook. At some point during the call you will be asked to provide your Social Security number and other personal data. If you provide this information, you make it very easy for your identity to be stolen.

  • Refund scam. A fake financial adviser offers to help you opt out of the Social Security system and reclaim all of the money that you paid into it over the years, for a fee.

The scam: There is no legal way to opt out of Social Security. This “adviser” will pocket your fee, then use the Social Security number you provide to steal your identity or sell it to others to do so.

  • Replacement card scam. A letter claiming to be from the SSA states that your Social Security card is in poor condition and must be replaced. Just fill out the enclosed form and a new card will be mailed to you.

The scam: If you fill out the form, a scammer will use the information to steal your identity. The SSA does not replace old Social Security cards unless the cardholder requests a replacement. The scammer likely assumed that your card was in poor condition because many people’s cards are in poor condition.

IF YOU ALREADY RECEIVE BENEFITS

  • Inheritance scam. A communication that seems to be from the SSA informs you that because you recently received an inheritance, you no longer qualify for full Social Security benefits and must pay back a portion of benefits you received.

The scam: Receiving an inheritance does not affect your Social Security benefits. If you “pay back” the money as instructed, you are handing it to a con artist. This thief likely saw your name listed among the surviving relatives in a newspaper obituary and guessed that you received an inheritance.

  • Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) scam. The SSA informs you that you qualify for a benefits increase to keep pace with inflation—but only if you apply for it.

The scam: Cost-of-living adjustments are automatic, so anyone who prods you to apply for an adjustment is likely a con artist attempting to trick you into revealing your Social Security number and bank account information.

  • Extra check scam. The SSA says that you were the victim of a benefits miscalculation and are now entitled to an extra payment. You just have to complete a form (and perhaps pay a filing fee).

The scam: You have not really been underpaid by the SSA, you have been targeted by a con artist. In the extremely unlikely event that there really was a benefits miscalculation, once it was discovered by the SSA, you would not have to fill out a form or pay a fee to receive the money owed—your future checks would simply increase.

  • Direct-deposit scam. A scammer pretending to be from the SSA contacts you to confirm the direct-deposit bank account number it has on file for you. Like other Social Security scams, this contact might come via phone, mail or e-mail. You are warned that you will not receive your next check if you do not supply the requested information.

The scam: You have been contacted by a con artist, not the SSA. He/she likely is guessing that you receive your check by direct deposit, as most benefits recipients do. If you provide your bank account information, the thief can arrange a funds transfer or print counterfeit checks for your account. If the request to verify direct deposit information came via a phone call or e-mail, it is almost certainly a con. If it arrived in a letter, there is a chance that it could be legitimate. Rather than trust any contact information listed on this form, call the real SSA at 800-772-1213 to confirm. Do this with any communication that claims to come from the SSA.