Beware Social Security e-mail scam

'Phishers' are trying to get personal information from e-mail recipients by threatening to suspend their Social Security accounts.

By Jeanne Sahadi, senior writer

NEW YORK ( -- If you get an e-mail announcing the cost-of-living increases scheduled for 2007 Social Security benefits and purporting to be from the Social Security Administration, don't answer it and don't click on any links in the e-mail.

It's a scam.

The Social Security Administration on Tuesday warned of a new e-mail scam in which recipients are asked to update their personal information or risk having their Social Security "account" suspended indefinitely by Nov. 11.

Recipients are then directed to click on a link in the e-mail that takes them to a Web site designed to look like the Social Security Administration's Web site.

Among the pieces of information recipients are asked to give are their name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, credit card information, as well as bank account numbers.

The Office of the Inspector General of Social Security is investigating the case. "I am outraged that someone would target an unsuspecting public in this manner," said Social Security Commissioner Jo Anne Barnhart in a statement Tuesday.

The scam is a classic example of "phishing," whereby thieves looking to make a quick buck or to steal someone's identity send e-mails to consumers in which they claim to be from an institution like a bank or government agency. They then try to get the consumer to unwittingly give up valuable information like a Social Security or bank account number.

Sometimes when a consumer answers a phishing e-mail, malicious keylogging software is automatically downloaded onto the consumer's computer, allowing the thieves to view anything you type in. Phishing can also occur by phone.

Don't respond to e-mails or phone calls from parties claiming to be institutions with which you do business unless you've initiated the exchange and have been told in advance that they would be contacting you. Your bank isn't going to contact you to get your account information, nor is the Social Security Administration going to ask you to send the agency your Social Security number and other financial information.

If you have responded inadvertently to this most recent Social Security scam, call the fraud hotline at the Office of Inspector General (1-800-269-0271 or, if you're deaf or hard of hearing, call 1-866-501-2101).

And if you're currently receiving Social Security benefits, you might also call the Social Security Administration (SSA) at 1-800-772-1213 and ask them to make a note in your records indicating that no one calling should be allowed to make any changes to your file on record without the SSA contacting you first.

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