In a recent posting to one of our favorite ID security blogs—ONGuardOnline.gov, the focus was on Social Security scams. The following information is adapted from Amy Hebert’s post on behalf of the FTC and Andrew Cannarsa’s post on behalf of the US Inspector General.
To facilitate Social Security’s services, the SSA started an official Twitter account and has already accumulated more than 16,500 followers; every day, SSA tweets information about applying for Social Security benefits, and answers frequently asked questions.
With so much interest in a government Twitter handle like @SocialSecurity, imposter accounts were bound to materialize.
When @SociSecurity appeared last year with an SSA emblem as its profile photo, and began tweeting Social Security-related information, SSA alerted our Office of the Counsel to the Inspector General.
The US Office of Counsel—which is made up of the Counsel to the Inspector General, the Deputy Counsel, and a staff of attorneys—enforces Section 1140 of the Social Security Act. To summarize, the law prohibits people and organizations from using Social Security words and symbols in communications in any way that could mislead the public to believe that Social Security has an official connection with that communication. The law also prohibits people or organizations from charging a fee for an otherwise-free Social Security form or publication without authorization.
In this case, the Office of Counsel worked promptly with Twitter to suspend the @SociSecurity account, which violated Section 1140. We—and SSA—were primarily concerned that the account would spread incorrect information and confuse people into thinking they were communicating directly with SSA.
In another case, we insisted on changes to a “Social Security Disability Blog” Facebook page, which used an emblem that appeared to be official and was classified as a “Government Website.” The account no longer uses that particular emblem, and is no longer classified as a “Government Website.”
With these recent examples in mind, we want to warn you—and ask you to spread the word—to be on guard for misleading Internet Social Security-related advertisements and communications, including those on social media and mobile apps.
Section 1140 scams can include:
- Websites misleadingly designed to appear as SSA’s official website or officially authorized by SSA (see example below). Official-sounding web addresses or domain names—like SocialSecurityHome.com,—used by themselves or along with misleading websites, can create the false impression of an SSA connection.
- Sale of SSA publications, forms, and services otherwise provided free of charge.
- Social Security Disability Representation. Some websites are misleadingly designed to appear as SSA’s official website or as if they are authorized by SSA, but their actual purpose is to obtain people’s personal information to generate leads for either attorney or non-attorney Social Security disability advocacy services.
- Email Phishing Scams. We are aware of several email phishing scams that use SSA as the hook to get you to open and respond to the email. Purporting to be from SSA, these emails were designed to steal your personal email account login ID and password.
As always, be mindful of originating any communication before sharing personally identifying information. If you ever question the legitimacy of any Social Security-related communication, you can report that directly to the OIG through our Fraud Hotline, online at http://oig.ssa.gov/report or by phone Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. EST, at (800) 269-0271.
For more information on identity theft best practices, please visit www.hvshred.com