Social Security is a lifeline for millions of older Americans. The last thing you need is a criminal getting ahold of your personal data and stealing your benefits. Unfortunately, new data from SimplyWise indicates that fraudsters aren't letting up during the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, 47% of Americans have experienced an attempted Social Security scam in the past three months. Worse yet, 21% of seniors report that they've experienced three or more scam attempts during that time period.

Protect your personal information by recognizing what a scam might look like.

Older person with a distressed expression holding phone to ear.

Image source: Getty Images.

How to spot a Social Security scam

Avoiding Social Security scams could boil down to following one key rule: Never give out your Social Security number or other personal data when you get an unsolicited call, text, or email.

As a general practice, the Social Security Administration (SSA) communicates with beneficiaries by mail. Occasionally, you may get a phone call from someone at the SSA, but only if it's in response to a call you made first or an ongoing matter the agency is investigating. If someone contacts you out of the blue claiming to be from the SSA, hang up or ignore that message.

But let's say you stay on the line. What might these scams look like? In some cases, a caller might tell you that there's a problem with your account and ask you to verify information to avoid benefit payment suspension. Alternatively, you may get a call or message that there's been criminal activity associated with your account and that you'll need to verify your personal details to avoid jail.

In other cases, you may get a call stating that you're entitled to a higher monthly benefit -- but you'll need to provide the right information to get that boost. In reality, once you start collecting Social Security, your benefits will only increase if a cost-of-living adjustment is implemented. You won't randomly get to go from collecting $1,400 a month to $1,500 a month.

Scammers may also ask you to send or wire money to avoid suspended benefits or fines. Absolutely don't do this. (Some scammers will ask for gift cards instead of cash, and that's an easier red flag to spot.)

In the ultimate ironic twist, you may even get a message inviting you to enroll in an anti-fraud program to protect your benefits. If you're asked to verify your personal information or give out your Social Security number, don't do it.

Protect yourself

You'd think Social Security scammers would give things a rest during the pandemic, but that's not the case. Do not give out any information when an unsolicited request comes in. If you're not sure whether a caller claiming to be from the SSA is scamming you, hang up and call the agency back at its toll-free number: (800) 772-1213.

If you fear you've already given out your personal data to a criminal, call the SSA and ask for guidance. Consider freezing your credit and filing a report with the Federal Trade Commission. The sooner you act after falling victim to a scam, the better equipped you'll be to minimize the damage.