JUST PLAIN TALK: Avoid Social Security scams

Buz Livingston
Buz Livingston

As we age, we become more susceptible to financial fraud, in particular, men over age 70. If you don’t think you are vulnerable to being scammed, you are more likely to be a victim. For years, fraud generally involved bogus investments, but recently, crooks have honed their tactics and target Social Security beneficiaries. Financial fraud and financial abuse are often under-reported but some statistics indicate Social Security fraud could be the most common type.To protect yourself, don’t make an emotional decision and ask a friend for advice.

Social Security scams almost always begin with a phone call either in person or a recording with someone falsely representing a government employee. The calls ostensibly warn of a problem with a Social Security number or benefit, offering to reinstate a suspended account. Sometimes they threaten arrest or other legal action. Another trick crooks use is appealing to your greed by providing a benefit increase. Con men know you can’t cheat an honest man. A different ruse, ironically, involves identity theft protection. The calls can be “spoofed” using Social Security’s actual hotline 1-800-772-1213 or followed up by email.

If you receive a menacing phone call, it is a scam. Hang up immediately and call Social Security’s Inspector General, 800-269-0271. Social Security will never threaten an arrest or legal action by phone.

Social Security will never contact you by text or email. If there is a problem with your Social Security number or account, Social Security uses U.S. mail exclusively. Look for misspellings and other grammar mistakes in any email follow-up.

A request for payment by wire transfer, gift card, cash or cryptocurrency is a tell-tale mark of a scam. If Social Security determines you need to submit a payment, you will receive a letter with instructions and payment options. A legitimate Social Security employee will never offer to increase your benefit. If a caller asks for your bank account number, Social Security number, or credit card information, hang up. It’s alright to close the conversation with expletives.

To combat Social Security fraud, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, along with the Federal Trade Commission and the Social Security Administration, provides free placemats in Spanish and English designed for senior citizens. As a community service, I ordered 100, contact our office if you would like some.

While technically not a scam, in 15 years, the Social Security Trust fund will only be able to pay approximately 75% of projected benefits. Each political party blames the other. Democrats claim Republicans stole the trust fund; Republicans trot out the usual suspects, fraud and abuse. Social Security funding woes can be solved by increasing taxes or cutting benefits, take your pick. Excuse me, we can keep the benefit levels the same and supplement with general tax revenue, but that raises the deficit even higher. Ignoring the problem doesn’t help either.

You can’t always get what you want, but Buz Livingston, CFP, can help you figure out what you need. For specific advice, visit livingstonfinancial.net or drop by 2050 West County Highway 30A, M1 Suite 230.