Being aware of fraud is the first step to avoiding it

When it comes to doing business with Social Security online, there is little to worry about — all of our online services are protected by strong internet security protocols and you should have confidence that they are safe and secure. But, there are other ways identity thieves and criminals can obtain your personal information and cause you significant harm. Here are some tips to help keep that from happening.

If someone contacts you claiming to be from Social Security and asks for your Social Security number, date of birth, or other identifying information, beware. Don’t provide your personal information without first contacting Social Security to verify if Social Security is really trying to contact you. It could be an identity thief phishing for your personal information. Call Social Security’s toll-free number at 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778).

If you receive a suspicious call, report it by going to http://oig.ssa.gov/report. Or call 800-269-0271 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. You should provide as much of the following information as you know:

• The alleged suspect(s) and victim(s) names, address(es), phone number(s), date(s) of birth, and Social Security number(s)

• Description of the fraud and the location where the fraud took place

• When and how the fraud was committed

• Why the person committed the fraud (if known)

• Who else has knowledge of the potential violation

Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in America. If you or anyone you know has been the victim of an identity thief, contact the Federal Trade Commission at idtheft.gov, or 877-IDTHEFT (877-438-4338); TTY 866-653-4261.

Another form of fraud that people fall victim to: businesses using misleading advertisements that make it look as though they are from Social Security. These businesses often offer Social Security services for a fee, even though the same services are available directly from Social Security free of charge. By law, such an advertisement must indicate that the company is not affiliated with Social Security.

If you receive what you believe is misleading advertising for Social Security services, send the complete mailing, including the envelope, to: Office of the Inspector General, Fraud Hotline, Social Security Administration, P.O. Box 17768, Baltimore, MD 21235. Also, advise your state’s attorney general or consumer affairs office and the Better Business Bureau. If you see or hear what you believe is misleading advertising related to Social Security, you can report it at the address above, by calling 800-269-0271 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., or by visiting http://oig.ssa.gov/report.

Protect your investment in Social Security and do your part to report potential fraud. We rely on you to let us know when you suspect someone is committing fraud against Social Security.

Reporting fraud is a smart thing to do — and the right thing to do. Visit Social Security’s Office of the Inspector General at http://oig.ssa.gov. Learn more about identity theft and misleading advertising by reading our publications on the subjects at socialsecurity.gov/pubs.

Brian L. Hewitt is district manager at the Social Security Administration office at 222 Cherry St. in Terre Haute.

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