Once you retire, you may rely heavily on Social Security to cover your various living costs. So the last thing you'd want to do is compromise those benefits in any way, especially if they're your main retirement income source.

Unfortunately, seniors are often the targets of financial scams, many of which involve criminals going after Social Security benefits. If you want to avoid that fate, here's what you need to know.

What the Social Security Administration will and won't do

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is in charge of sending out benefits, and from time to time, you may get communication from the SSA. But one thing you should know is that the SSA is not in the habit of calling seniors individually to discuss their benefits or texting them with updates.

Person on cell phone sitting in easy chair.

Image source: Getty Images.

Rather, if the SSA wants to reach you, it will generally send you a letter in the mail. That letter may contain a number you can call to follow up on the matter at hand, but in that case, you'll be making the call -- not the other way around.

In fact, as a matter of course, the SSA won't attempt to reach you by phone (home or cell), email, or text. The SSA will also not:

  • Threaten to withhold your benefits if you don't complete a survey or verify information about your bank account or finances
  • Ask you to take a picture of your Social Security card and text or email it
  • Demand that you pay a penalty or fine to unlock your benefits
  • Insist that you wire money or send gift cards to unfreeze your benefits
  • Require you to update your personal details in order to process your upcoming cost-of-living adjustment (COLA)

If you receive an email, call, or text where any of these scenarios apply, hang up or delete it. Better yet, report that information to the Office of the Inspector General.

What to do when there is a problem with your Social Security benefits

Sometimes, a senior on Social Security may come across a snag. It could be that a benefit payment is delayed or a Social Security claim is initially rejected. If that's the case, you can definitely reach out to the SSA at 1 (800) 772-1213. To be clear, it's OK to speak to a live person about a Social Security issue you're having, as long as you're the one who's initiated that call.

In some cases, the SSA may call you back in response to an inquiry you've made. But in that situation, that initial contact will have come from you.

What happens if you fall victim to a scam?

If a criminal is able to get hold of your Social Security number and bank account details, that person could easily steal your benefits before you get a chance to use them. A criminal could also use your Social Security number to open up a credit card account or line of credit in your name and make charges against it. And if you agree to pay a bogus penalty or fine to unfreeze your benefits, you could end up losing the money you send over in such a transaction.

That's why it's important to be vigilant about Social Security scams. Knowing what to look out for could spare you a world of stress and financial backlash.