Calls and e-mails from scammers pretending to be government employees are widespread. Social Security phone scams are the No. 1 scam reported to the Federal Trade Commission. Chances are you, a friend, or a family member have received a call like this.

Victims need not be receiving benefits to become a target. A common ploy is a caller claiming there is a problem with a target’s Social Security number or account. Every American — regardless of age, income and geography — is at risk. Scammers will try to scare and trick potential targets into giving out their personal information or money.

Is it a scam?

The best way to protect yourself and your money is to recognize a scam. Scammers use intimidating language and often offer a “solution” to fix what they say is a serious problem with your Social Security number or account. How can you tell when it’s a scam? Social Security will not:

Say your Social Security number has been suspended.

Promise a Social Security benefit approval or increase in exchange for information.

Call to demand an immediate payment.

Insist you pay a debt without the ability to appeal the amount you owe.

Require payment by retail gift card, pre-paid debit card, Internet currency, wire transfer, or by mailing cash.

Ask for your personal information.

Scammers prey on our fears. The stories they tell would scare anyone. No matter how horrible the story, if they do any of the above, it’s a scam.

What should you do?

If you receive a suspicious call, the safest thing for you to do is:

Hang up.

Don’t share personal information or make a payment.

Report the scam to the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General at oig.ssa.gov.

And, if you receive such threats via e-mail, delete the e-mail and do not click on any links or download any attachments. Even if the e-mail or an attachment contains Social Security’s seal or names of real people, ignore it. Then, report the scam.

Other tips

What if Social Security really needs to contact you? Generally, they will mail a letter and only call by phone if a client has requested a call or has ongoing business with them.

Usually, Social Security will mail clients a letter that contains telephone numbers for contacting them. Clients also may contact Social Security by calling (800) 772-1213 or visiting SSA.gov.

Anyone who thinks they may have been scammed, shouldn’t be embarrassed, according to officials. They recommend reporting scams to Social Security’s Office of the Inspector General at oig.ssa.gov and sharing this important information with family and friends.

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