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How Not to Become a Victim of Social Security Fraud Calls

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Here are some questions and answers about fake Social Security calls:

What should I do if I think a call is fraudulent?

Don’t answer calls from unfamiliar numbers. Instead, let them go to voice mail — or an answering machine, if you still use one, advised Kathy Stokes, director of fraud prevention programs with AARP. Then listen to the message, and delete it if it’s suspicious.

If you do answer the phone and the caller demands money, hang up — don’t give out personal information. “You don’t want to engage with the scammer,” Mr. Saul said.

Report the call to the inspector general’s office at the Social Security Administration, online at https://oig.ssa.gov/. The form asks you to create a unique identification number, so if the agency contacts you, you can ask for the number to verify that the call is authentic.

The agency also offers a voice verification service to people who call Social Security’s 800 number. Callers can record their first and last name. Then, when they get a scheduled call back, they will hear their own voice and know the call is legitimate.

Be aware that because of spoofing technology, an apparently legitimate phone number may be fake. Anyone can get a Social Security fraud call, but older people may be more vulnerable because they are more likely to rely on benefits for living expenses, and some schemes threaten a suspension of benefits, said Randal Wolverton, a former F.B.I. agent and a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ Fraud Task Force.

Do the schemes always involve a phone call?

Sometimes, criminals email official-looking documents purporting to be Social Security papers, and more recently they have started sending text messages that appear to be coming from the agency, urging people to call a number to resolve a “legal” problem with a Social Security number. But the administration won’t send unsolicited texts asking you to return a call to an unknown number, Ms. Ennis said.

The agency sends texts only if you have agreed to receive them, and then in limited situations — if, for instance, you have a disability claim that is being reviewed or have signed up to have authentication codes sent to your phone when logging into your Social Security account.

How can I avoid getting spam calls?

It’s hard to eliminate robocalls, but some tools may help reduce them. Contact your cellphone company about screening tools or filters that can help block or reduce spam calls, the Federal Communications Commission suggests. Consumer Reports suggests trying apps like Nomorobo, which charges a monthly fee for cellphones. Free apps are also available, Consumer Reports notes, but they may require access to your personal contact lists. You can also register your phones on the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call List, which won’t stop illegal calls but can help reduce calls from telemarketers.

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