Social Security Scam
Each year, in October, the Social Security Administration announces the cost-of-living increase for the following year for the nation's 49 million Social Security recipients.
The COLA for 2007 was remarkable for two reasons: 1. It was smaller than the COLA for 2006. 2. It took phishers about three weeks to come up with a way of piggybacking on news of the benefit increase for their own nefarious purposes.
The Social Security Administration has received several reports of an E-mail message making the rounds with the subject line "Cost-of-Living for 2007 update."
Claiming to be from the Social Security Administration, the scammers tell recipients about the 3.3 percent cost-of-living bump in benefits for 2007, with the following instructions: "We now need you to update your personal information. If this is not completed by November 11, 2006, we will be forced to suspend your account indefinitely."
Would-be victims are then directed to a Web site that looks like the Social Security Administration's official site.
Once directed to the phony Web site, they are asked to register for a password and to confirm their identity by providing personal information such as their Social Security number, bank account information and credit card information.
No doubt, the Social Security COLA phishing scam will join the annual parade of faux government agency e-mail assaults, that start during tax season.
Granted, this particular scam lacks the flourish of a Scottish lottery e-vite. And it's not as brazen as e-mails from phony charities claiming to be collecting money for victims of the Southeast Asian Tsunami. But preying on seniors and the disabled who make up many of Social Security's recipients is pretty low.
As one of you said last week, there are very few instances in which you must give out your SSN to anyone. States can't use them anymore on driver's licenses. You're not legally obligated to give most private businesses your Social Security number. (Financial institutions, which are required by law to authenticate customers' identities, may need them.) Businesses, of course, have the option not to do business with you, and vice versa. Perhaps if we all boycotted businesses that asked us for our SSN, they would get the picture and stop.
The government is another story because, in the case of the IRS, for instance, your SSN is your tax identification number. So, you're stuck there.
If a government agency appears to be asking you for your Social, know that the Privacy Act of 1974 requires them to provide a disclosure notice on the form saying under what authority the SSN is being requested and how it will be used. Unfortunately, if there's no disclosure, it may still be a legitimate government agency doing the asking. And government agencies don't get in trouble for failing to include privacy disclosures, according to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.
If you receive one of the phony Social Security Administration e-mails, call the Social Security's Office of Inspector General at 800-269-0271 or go fill out a form online.
Do you think it's possible to get along by boycotting businesses that ask for your Social Security number?
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