Social Security Fraud

Social Security fraud costs Americans millions of dollars each year. Scammers will target older adults through phone calls, emails and letters in an attempt to steal their personal information. Social Security fraud is on the rise in 2023, with a new cost-of-living adjustment scam in response to the 8.7% increase to benefits. Learn how to recognize, prevent and report Social Security fraud to keep your well-earned funds and identity safe.

  • Written by
    Lindsey Crossmier

    Lindsey Crossmier

    Financial Writer

    Lindsey Crossmier is an accomplished writer with experience working for The Florida Review and Bookstar PR. As a financial writer, she covers Medicare, life insurance and dental insurance topics for RetireGuide. Research-based data drives her work.

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  • Edited By
    Lamia Chowdhury
    Lamia Chowdhury, editor for RetireGuide.com

    Lamia Chowdhury

    Financial Editor

    Lamia Chowdhury is a financial content editor for RetireGuide and has over three years of marketing experience in the finance industry. She has written copy for both digital and print pieces ranging from blogs, radio scripts and search ads to billboards, brochures, mailers and more.

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  • Reviewed By
    Brandon Renfro, Ph.D., CFP®, RICP®, EA
    Brandon Renfro, RetireGuide Reviewer

    Brandon Renfro, Ph.D., CFP®, RICP®, EA

    Retirement and Social Security Expert

    Brandon Renfro is a Retirement and Social Security Expert and financial planner. He focuses on helping clients create a secure financial future in retirement and co-owns Belonging Wealth Management. He is also a former finance professor and writes for several publications.

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  • Published: March 3, 2023
  • Updated: June 7, 2023
  • 9 min read time
  • This page features 12 Cited Research Articles
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How to Cite RetireGuide.com's Article

APA Crossmier, L. (2023, June 7). Social Security Fraud. RetireGuide.com. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from https://www.retireguide.com/social-security/fraud/

MLA Crossmier, Lindsey. "Social Security Fraud." RetireGuide.com, 7 Jun 2023, https://www.retireguide.com/social-security/fraud/.

Chicago Crossmier, Lindsey. "Social Security Fraud." RetireGuide.com. Last modified June 7, 2023. https://www.retireguide.com/social-security/fraud/.

What Is Social Security Fraud?

Social Security fraud is a crime committed by scammers attempting to get your Social Security number and other private information. If a scammer manages to get your information, they can access your financial accounts and steal your identity.

If they succeed, the scammer could open a bank account in your name, take out loans in your name or claim your Social Security benefits.

Did you know?
In 2021 alone, there were more than 568,000 reports of Social Security-related scams, which resulted in over $63.6 million in losses to the victims.
Source: CNBC

Social Security fraud is investigated by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and Social Security Administration (SSA). According to the OIG, older adults are typically targeted for Social Security fraud.

According to OIG’s quarterly scam update, which was from July 1, 2022 to Sept. 30, 2022, those between the ages of 70 and 84 had an average of $14,557 of reported stolen funds. This is almost four times the amount stolen from those 29 or younger.

The OIG provided statistics in their quarterly scam update displaying what tactics scammers typically used to try to get your personal information. For example, 43.8% of scammers claimed there was a problem with your Social Security number.

Learn about different types of Social Security scams and how to avoid them to ensure your hard-earned benefits stay in your pocket.

Percentage of Total Scammer Allegations
  • 43% reported the scammer mentioned a problem with their Social Security number.
  • 14.8% said the scammer mentioned a problem with their Social Security benefits.
  • 19.5% said the scammer used documents or images (such as a federal logo) when communicating with them.
  • 37.9% claimed the scam involved impersonating officials from federal, state or local government agencies other than the Social Security Administration.
  • 2.4% said the scammer mentioned a COVID-19-related issue or referred to a COVID-19 stimulus check or economic impact payment.

Common Types of Social Security Fraud

There are four common methods for scammers to commit Social Security fraud — they’ll call you, text you, send you fraudulent mail or phishing emails.

The easiest way to tell if you’re potentially being scammed is by the behavior of the person contacting you. Are they threatening you or being pushy about you releasing your personal information? If so, it’s probably a scam.

The OIG provided a press release informing Americans to be wary of a new popular Social Security scam in 2023, which is centered around the new cost-of-living adjustment (COLA).

The 2023 COLA was the highest adjustment in over 40 years, raising Social Security benefits by 8.7%. Scammers are contacting potential victims through phone, text and email claiming that they need to release personal information or visit a website to get the 8.7% increase to their benefit. This is not true — the COLA adjustment happens automatically.

The best way to defend yourself against Social Security fraud is to familiarize yourself with what tactics scammers use when trying to contact you through phone, text, mail or email.

Fraudulent Phone Calls

Unless you have requested a call, the Social Security Administration will not call you.

Phone scammers commonly pretend to be government employees, notifying you that there is an issue with your Social Security number. In some cases, they act as if they are notifying you of identity theft, when they are the ones actively trying to steal your information.

If they threaten you with legal action, demand a payment or claim to suspend your Social Security number — it is a scam.

The best thing to do if you receive a scam call is hang up and report the call to the OIG online.

Phishing Emails

Phishing emails typically pretend to be an easily recognizable company, like the SSA, with an official looking letterhead at the top.

While there are many different formats for phishing emails, they typically follow the structure described below.

The scammer starts the email out with a reference to an issue with your Social Security number, stating that your benefits will be withheld until your information is updated. Then there will be a link for you to click and enter all your personal information, which would then be at the scammer’s disposal.

If you believe you’ve received a phishing email, don’t click on any links or call the phone number provided. Report the email as spam and report it to the OIG.

Text Message Scam

Unless you signed up to receive SSA texts, they will never text you.

Some of these texts may contain malicious links, like phishing emails, or push you to call a number for more information.

It’s important that you do not click the link or call the number they provide. Some scammers may even send a photo of doctored credentials through text in an attempt to prove they work for the SSA.

Mail Fraud

Scammers are known to mail legitimate looking Social Security letters, with official looking letterheads. These letters typically claim you must call a number or make an account on a fake website to activate your benefits. This is not true — your benefits and COLA go through automatically.

The National Council on Aging recommends proofreading the letter to confirm if it’s a scam or not. Grammatical or spelling errors will indicate the letter as fake.

To confirm if a letter is a scam or not, you can contact the SSA at 1-800-772-1213 for verification. Another alternative is setting up your account at My Social Security, which will send you notices and benefits.

How Can I Prevent Social Security Fraud?

Staying wary of popular scam trends, like the 2023 COLA scam, and a scammer’s behavior can help you recognize and prevent fraud. One of most common scammer tactics is threatening arrest or legal action, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Common Tactics SSA Scammers Use
  • Threaten to suspend your Social Security number
  • Threaten arrest or legal action
  • Request personal information to activate your benefits or COLA
  • Ask you to pay them with gift cards, wire transfers or mailing cash
  • Threaten to seize your bank account
  • Demand you to tell no one about them contacting you

You’d think preventing Social Security fraud would be simple — just don’t share your personal information with strangers. But criminals are getting more creative with their scams. They will threaten, use legal jargon and even present doctored documents to try to sway you.

If you’re ever in the scenario where you think you’re being scammed, the best thing to do is to remain calm. If you’re flustered and upset, you may accidentally reveal personal information. Protect your Social Security number, stop communicating with the scammer and report the incident to the OIG.

How To Report Social Security Fraud

If you believe you’re a victim of Social Security fraud, file a report immediately to the OIG’s hotline at 1-800-269-0271, or report the fraud online.

The Social Security Administration recommends gathering facts about the fraud before reporting. This way, it will be easier to file a report and get your money back.

Information To Provide When Reporting Social Security Fraud
  • Date the fraud occurred
  • Location where the fraud occurred
  • The amount of money you lost, and how you paid it
  • Scammer’s phone number or email

If you have a suspect in mind, try to gather their information as well. If you have the suspect’s name, address, telephone number and date of birth, your investigation will be easier for the OIG and SSA to solve.

How Social Security Fraud Affects Taxpayers

If a scammer manages to get your Social Security number, they can file your income tax return and collect your refund. The Federal Trade Commission estimates up to nine million Americans have their identities stolen each year.

According to the 2022 Annual Report from the IRS, there were $5.7 billion losses linked to tax fraud. So, if a scammer knows your Social Security number, your tax return could go into their pocket.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will mail you a letter if they suspect you’re a victim of Social Security fraud. They will not file the suspicious tax return until you respond to their letter.

However, in some cases, the IRS may not catch that a scammer has filed for your tax return. If the return goes through, you will be in charge of contacting the IRS and letting them know your tax return has been stolen.

Did you know?
You can get an Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN), which will prevent a criminal from filing a tax return using your Social Security number. If you want an IP PIN, go to the IRS website to set one up.
Source: Internal Revenue Service

Frequently Asked Questions About Social Security Fraud

What happens during a social security fraud investigation?
During a Social Security fraud investigation, federal, state and local law enforcement work to investigate the crime. They’ll try to figure out how the fraud was committed and personal information about the criminal so they can be properly prosecuted.
Do people go to jail for Social Security fraud?
Yes, you can go to jail if you commit Social Security fraud. A regular citizen’s maximum jail sentence for Social Security fraud is 5 years. If you’re in a position of trust, like a Social Security employee, you could go to jail for a maximum of 10 years.
How can you protect yourself from Social Security fraud?
You should always keep your Social Security number confidential, monitor your credit reports regularly and report any suspicious activity to the Social Security Administration or your financial institution immediately. You can also sign up for a My Social Security account to monitor your benefits and keep track of activity.

Editor Samantha Connell contributed to this article.

Last Modified: June 7, 2023

12 Cited Research Articles

  1. Social Security Administration. (2023, January 9). Get an Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN). Retrieved from https://www.irs.gov/identity-theft-fraud-scams/get-an-identity-protection-pin
  2. Office of the Inspector General. (2023). Scam Alert. Retrieved from https://oig.ssa.gov/scam-awareness/scam-alert/
  3. Internal Revenue Service. (2022, November). Annual Report. Retrieved from https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p3583.pdf
  4. Office of the Inspector General. (2022, October 22). IG Warning: Offers To Increase Your Social Security Benefit Are from Criminals. Retrieved from https://oig.ssa.gov/news-releases/2022-10-20-ig-warning-offers-to-increase-your-social-security-benefit-are-from-criminals/
  5. Bauer, B. (2022, May 25). Did You Receive a Letter from the Social Security Administration? Here’s What You Need To Know. Retrieved from https://www.ncoa.org/article/did-you-receive-a-letter-from-social-security-heres-what-you-need-to-know
  6. Social Security Administration. (2022, April 12). What Taxpayers Should Do if They Get an Identity Theft Letter From the IRS. Retrieved from https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/what-taxpayers-should-do-if-they-get-an-identity-theft-letter-from-the-irs
  7. Konish, L. (2022, March 10). These Social Security Scams Will Try To Steal Your Savings. Here’s What To Watch Out For. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2022/03/10/warning-signs-that-you-are-the-target-of-a-social-security-scam.html
  8. Office of the Inspector General. (2022). Quarterly Scam Update. Retrieved from https://oig.ssa.gov/assets/uploads/quarterly-scam-report-issue-6.pdf
  9. Scheithe, E. (2020, February 18). Five Ways To Recognize a Social Security Scam. Retrieved from https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/blog/five-ways-to-recognize-social-security-scam/
  10. Social Security Administration. (n.d.). Fraud Prevention and Reporting. Retrieved from https://www.ssa.gov/fraud/
  11. Social Security Administration. (n.d.). Penalties for Fraud. Retrieved from https://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/ssact/title16b/1632.htm
  12. Sunstate Bank. (n.d.). Preventing ID Theft. Retrieved from https://www.sunstatefl.com/About-Us/Education-Planning/Preventing-ID-Theft