WASHINGTON — It didn’t take long for the Internet to start buzzing with conspiracy theories after the Social Security Administration posted a notice that it was purchasing 174,000 hollow-point bullets.

Why is the agency that provides benefits to retirees, disabled workers, widows and children stockpiling ammunition? Whom are they going to use it on?

“It’s not outlandish to suggest that the Social Security Administration is purchasing the bullets as part of preparations for civil unrest,” the website Infowars.com said. The clamor became such a distraction for the agency that it dedicated a website to explaining the purchase. The explanation, it turns out, isn’t as tantalizing as an arms buildup to defend against unruly senior citizens.

The bullets are for Social Security’s office of inspector general, which has about 295 agents who investigate Social Security fraud and other crimes, said Jonathan L. Lasher, the agency’s assistant IG for external relations.

The agents carry guns and make arrests – 589 last year, Lasher said. They execute search warrants and respond to threats against Social Security offices, employees and customers.

Agents carry .357 caliber pistols, Lasher said. The bullets, which add up to about 590 per agent, are for the upcoming fiscal year. Most will be expended on the firing range.

Some bloggers have taken issue with the type of ammunition the agency is buying, questioning why agents need hollow-point bullets. Hollow-points are known for causing more tissue damage than other bullets when they hit a person because they expand when they enter the body.

The bullets, however, are standard issue for many law enforcement agencies, Lasher said, a fact confirmed by other law enforcement training centers.

“For practice ammunition, they do not have to be hollow-points, but hollow-points are the normal police round used for duty ammunition due to their ability to stop when they hit an object as opposed to going through it and striking more objects,” said William J. Muldoon, president of the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training.