Remain Vigilant of “Disability Services” Phone Calls

Beyond the Numbers

Date: 
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Posted by: 
The Communications Division

Before you share your personal information over the phone, think about who is asking for it and why they are asking for it.

The OIG has fielded reports that citizens are receiving questionable phone calls and text messages from people alleging to have a connection with Social Security and its disability programs. In one case, a private disability representative firm reported that a client who resides in Oklahoma received a phone call from a man who identified himself as a representative of “National Disability, with the local SSA office.” He left a phone number with a 405 area code in Oklahoma; however, follow-up calls to that number went directly to a voice message. In another case, a Maryland resident—who had not applied for disability—received three calls from a man who offered disability assistance when he called from the 301 area code in Maryland.

These communications are apparent attempts to obtain the citizens' personal information; according to the reports, callers asked the recipient to contact a phone number for information related to his or her disability application. However, many of the people who have received the messages are not Social Security disability applicants or beneficiaries.

It is critical to remain vigilant of various phishing schemes, to guard against identity theft and government benefit theft.

Section 1140: A Consumer Protection Tool

Individuals or groups who misrepresent themselves as part of Social Security violate Section 1140 of the Social Security Act.  Section 1140 prohibits people or companies from misleading the public by falsely representing that they are associated with or endorsed by SSA when they advertise or solicit services or otherwise communicate with the public. Under Section 1140, such communications include mail, emails, television advertisements, websites, social media targeted ads and accounts, phone calls and text messages, or other forms of contact.

OIG attorneys aggressively pursue and seek to resolve Section 1140 violations. As of August 2016, people found in violation of Section 1140 are subject to civil monetary penalties of up to $9,893 for each violation, or, in the case of telecasts or broadcasts, $49,467 per violation.

Earlier this year, our attorneys reached an agreement with an advertising company that sent misleading disability solicitations to citizens through text messages. In the messages, the company asked the recipients to call a specific phone number for information related to their recent SSA disability application. In some cases, the text recipients had not filed an application with SSA. The company’s actions constituted a Section 1140 violation; OIG imposed the penalty, and the company agreed to pay a $50,000 settlement.

Promoting Consumer Awareness

Social Security employees may call you in limited situations, such as if you recently filed a claim or have other Social Security business. In that case, the Social Security employee will have your personal information, like your Social Security number or bank account number. Agency employees will not make unsolicited calls and request personal information.

Social Security is not the only federal agency affected by these phishing schemes. The Internal Revenue Service continues to report that persons are calling unsuspecting citizens and purporting to be IRS employees offering tax return assistance. 

Are you aware of suspicious activity or communications involving Social Security programs and operations? Please contact the OIG Fraud Hotline at https://oig.ssa.gov/report, or by phone at 1-800-269-0271, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday.  (Those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can call the OIG TTY number at 1-866-501-2101.)