What you need to know about recent changes in agency operations and ongoing fraud schemes.
Although things are far from returning to normal in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, life does go on and federal employees continue to plan for retirement. As you do so, you should be aware of recent updates to Social Security service operations. Also, you should heed warnings about benefits scams, and stay up to date on the fiscal future of the program.
Doing Business with Social Security
Social Security offices are closed to the public for face-to-face service during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can do most of your business with the Social Security Administration online. Before calling the agency, visit its website to see the list of self-service options. These include viewing your latest statement, reviewing your earnings history, estimating your future retirement benefits, applying for benefits, and enrolling in Medicare. To do business with Social Security online, you will need to have a mySocialSecurity account.
If you can’t or prefer not to use the online services, you can still get help with certain critical issues by phone and mail. If you call Social Security toll-free at 800-772-1213, you may be able to take care of your business by using an automated system without having to wait for an agent. If you need to speak with an agent, be aware that wait times may be longer than usual.
If you still need additional help, you can write to: Social Security Administration, Office of Public Inquiries and Communications Support, 1100 West High Rise, 6401 Security Blvd., Baltimore, Maryland 21235.
Beware of Scams
The Social Security Administration uses emails, text messages, and social media to provide information on their programs and services. They will not, however, request personal or financial information using these methods. Sometimes, they will send emails with information that are particular to your needs, usually after a discussion with you in person or over the phone.
It’s important to beware of scammers pretending to be from Social Security. Reports about fraudulent phone calls from people claiming to represent the agency continue to increase, and recent reports have indicated callers are using threatening language. If you receive a suspicious call from someone alleging to be from Social Security, hang up and report details of the call to the Social Security Office of the Inspector General.
Look out for calls in which you are told there is a “problem with your Social Security number or account.” Also be aware of any call asking you to pay a fine with gift cards, wire transfers or cash. Social Security never does this. Caller ID or documents sent by email may look official but often they’re not. The SSA IG’s office has more information on scams.
Long before the pandemic, there have been concerns about the future ability of Social Security to provide benefits for today’s workers. In an April report, the Social Security Board of Trustees highlighted that the Social Security trust fund would be depleted by 2035. A rising cost of living, a growing aging population and increased medical expenses are all to blame for the fund’s potential shortfall. Though the report was released in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, its analysis relied on baseline assumptions before to the pandemic.
Now there are fears that COVID-19 could deplete the Social Security program four years earlier than previously predicted, according to a new analysis by the Penn Wharton Budget Model. As the outbreak continues to batter the American economy and increase jobless claims by the millions, Social Security revenue, funded by a payroll tax, has certainly taken a hit.
Congress could take steps to address the issue, but there has been little support for such legislation since it would likely involve tax increases and changes in benefit formulas.