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April 1, 2012

SOCIAL SECURITY: Scams no joke; don’t be April fool

Being the butt of an April fool’s joke is fine when it’s good-natured fun. But no one wants to fall victim to a scam artist or identity thief.

These days, everyone needs to be cautious of scams — Internet, mail and even phone scams — which can damage your credit score and pocketbook. Any time someone asks for your personal information, you should be wary. Particularly cruel are swindles that target Social Security beneficiaries.

You may think you’re safe simply by not carrying your Social Security card with you and not providing your personal information over the Internet or by email. But scam artists have become shrewd. Never reply to an email claiming to be from Social Security and asking for your Social Security number or personal information.

It is important to note that as a rule of thumb, Social Security will not call you for your personal information such as your Social Security number or banking information. If someone contacts you and asks for this kind of information, do not give it.

You should never provide your Social Security number or other personal information over the telephone unless you initiated the contact, or are confident of the person to whom you are speaking. If in doubt, do not release information without first verifying the validity of the call by contacting the local Social Security office or Social Security’s toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).

Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in America. If you think you’ve been the victim of an identity thief, you should immediately contact the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft. Or, you can call 1-877-438-4338; TTY 1-866-653-4261.

In addition, don’t become a victim of misleading advertisers. Often, these companies offer Social Security services for a fee, even though the same services are available directly from Social Security free of charge. These services include getting a:

• corrected Social Security card showing a bride's married name;

• Social Security card to replace a lost card;

• Social Security Statement; and

• Social Security number for a child.

Some direct scammers suggest that Social Security is in dire financial shape and that people risk losing their Social Security or Medicare benefits unless they send a contribution or membership fee to the advertiser. Do not fall for this scare tactic.

If you receive or see what you believe is misleading advertising for Social Security services, send the complete mailing, including the envelope, to: Office of the Inspector General, Fraud Hotline, Social Security Administration, P.O. Box 17768, Baltimore, MD 21235. Also, advise your State’s attorney general or consumer affairs office and the Better Business Bureau.

Don’t let a scam artist or identity thief make an April fool out of you. Learn more about identity theft at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10064.html. Read about misleading advertising at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10005.html.

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