Retirement Planning, Elder Law, and Senior Finance

3/21/2024 | By Jill Schlesinger, CFP

Scams have been in our vernacular for hundreds of years. From confidence ploys (Charles Ponzi and Bernie Madoff) to the modern day telemarketing and advance fee schemes, the preponderance of crooks seeking to separate you from your money is dizzying. The sheer volume and sophistication of these shady con artists has prompted the Social Security Administration (SSA) to raise public awareness of government imposter scams, with a “National Stop the Scam Day” (March 7), though every day could be labeled as such.

Today’s criminals have become brazen in their schemes, impersonating people from the SSA or other government agencies, like the IRS, in an attempt to obtain personal information or money.

The scammers have upped their game because they sometimes use legitimate names of government employees, “spoof” official government phone numbers and websites (including local police departments) and often send official-looking documents as attachments.

These thieves use a variety of methods to ensnare you, but whether it is a call, a text, or a social media message, they rely on a (false) claim to be from the Social Security Administration or the Office of the Inspector General to lure you into their web.

“They might use the name of a person who really works there and might send a picture or attachment as ‘proof,’” the SSA website says. This makes the recipient of the contact feel like the conversation is indeed legitimate.

To help you spot a fraudster, there are a few red flags to consider.

Scammers will often say there is a problem or a prize; exert pressure on you to “act now!”; and prompt you to pay them in a specific way (e.g. gift cards, prepaid debit cards, wire transfers, cryptocurrency, or by mailing cash).

If you are contacted by someone who appears to be from the SSA, keep in mind that Social Security personnel will NEVER:

A dark shadowy figure up to no good on a computer.
  • Threaten you with arrest or legal action because you don’t agree to pay money.
  • Suspend your Social Security number.
  • Claim to need personal information or payment to activate a cost-of-living adjustment or other benefit increase.
  • Pressure you to take immediate action, including sharing personal information.
  • Threaten to seize your bank account.
  • Offer to move your money to a “protected” bank account.
  • Demand secrecy.
  • Direct message you on social media.

Your ability to spot a scam not only can save you time, but also money. Federal Trade Commission data show that consumers reported losing more than $10 billion to fraud last year, a whopping 14% increase over reported losses in 2022.

To avoid being part of these growing statistics, keep your guard up, because even the most financially savvy can fall prey to tactics employed by these criminals. (I encourage doubters to read New York Magazine’s financial-advice columnist Charlotte Cowles’ harrowing experience as the victim of a scam.)

If you receive a communication that causes a strong emotional response, take a deep breath, try to remain calm, and disengage from the conversation immediately.

Do NOT click on links or attachments and protect your personal information. Also be aware that artificial intelligence (AI) makes spotting a scam more difficult. Villains can use voice cloning and deep fakes to impersonate a loved one who claims they are in danger and need money.

In addition to these “Family Emergency Scams,” AI makes it easy to operate bogus profiles on dating websites and social media platforms, which according to the government, can “simulate realistic conversation to build trust, with the goal of tricking the target into sending them money.”

If you think that you have been a victim, report it immediately to the Office of the Inspector General at

Jill Schlesinger, CFP, is a CBS News business analyst. A former options trader and CIO of an investment advisory firm, she welcomes comments and questions at Check her website at

©2024 Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Strengthen yourself further to stop the scam:

Protect Yourself Against Payment Scams

And browse the Seniors Guide archives on how to stop the scam, including fraud targeting seniors

Jill Schlesinger, CFP

Jill Schlesinger, CFP, is a CBS News business analyst. A former options trader and CIO of an investment advisory firm, she welcomes comments and questions at Check her website at