Millions of seniors rely on Social Security as a primary source of retirement income. In fact, for some seniors, Social Security is their only source of retirement income.

That's why workers are often encouraged to claim Social Security strategically. Filing at the wrong age could mean getting a lower monthly benefit for life.

But that's not the only danger you might face with regard to Social Security. If you're not careful, your benefit payments might end up in somebody else's hands -- a scammer's, to be exact. And that's a situation worth avoiding at all costs.

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Protect the benefits you need

A recent Motley Fool research study found that there were 92,371 victims of elder fraud in 2021. And between 2017 and 2021, financial losses from elder fraud increased by almost 400%.

Now, elder fraud can take on different forms. But often, scammers will target older people specifically because they may be less tech savvy than their younger counterparts.

An older person who really only has a cellphone in case of emergency may be less likely to identify a suspicious email or text than someone who uses a cellphone, the internet, and social media regularly. And scammers tend to take advantage of that vulnerability by targeting older people in particular.

If a scammer finds you and gets you to share personal data, they might manage to do everything from open a line of credit in your name to steal your Social Security benefits, whether by filing a claim in your name or rerouting your benefit payments from your bank account to theirs.

How to keep your Social Security benefits safe

If you rely heavily on Social Security to cover your expenses or expect to do so, make sure criminals can't get their hands on your benefits. And there are steps you can take to keep your money safe.

For one thing, never respond to an unsolicited call, text message, or email from someone claiming to be a Social Security Administration (SSA) representative. The SSA won't just call or text you out of the blue. And any official communication from the SSA will generally come in the mail.

Along these lines, create an account on the SSA's website so you can monitor activity related to it. If you're gearing up to file for Social Security but haven't done so, and you all of a sudden see that a claim has been submitted, that should serve as a big red flag. And in that case, you'll know to alert the SSA and take action.

Finally, always shred documents containing personal data rather than simply toss them out. A shredder won't cost a lot or take up a lot of space in your home, and cutting off access to things like your bank account and credit card statements could spare you a world of financial pain.

It's a terrible thing that scammers tend to target the elderly. But thankfully, there are things you can do to hang on to your Social Security benefits and prevent them from falling into the wrong hands.