WI21-03: Assessing Vulnerability to Social Security Scams



Over the last few years, Social Security scams have become one of the most common forms of government imposter fraud. These scams cost innocent people in the United States millions of dollars each year and undercut the ability of the Social Security Administration to contact and interact with citizens about their benefits. This report presents research into how to help individuals discriminate between scams and real appeals from the Social Security Administration. On a nationally representative sample of United States residents, the authors randomly assign participants to one of four training programs: from general tips about scams to a targeted experiential learning program inspired by inoculation theory. There is strong evidence that the inoculation process successfully and significantly increases fraud detection without decreasing trust in real communications. It provides protection against both SSA and non-SSA scams, such as Amazon imposter scams. The impact, however, is specific to the mode of communication (email versus letter or SMS) and decays over time; training programs should be targeted accordingly. This study suggests that a low cost, four and a half minute training can help individuals fight fraud, and such training should be examined for further refinement and potentially for broad deployment.


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WI21-03: Assessing Vulnerability to Social Security Scams

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