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Social Security Identity Theft

Edited By: Krista Mc'Farlene
 Have you ever given much thought to protecting your Social Security? Acting deputy commissioner for communications at the Social Security Administration, Jim Borland, wrote a blog post on the agency website headlined 'Protecting Your Social Security'. In the article, he said: "A my Social Security account is your gateway to many of our online services. Create your account today and take away the risk of someone else trying to create one in your name, even if they obtain your Social Security number.”
 
social security fraud

As expected, there were people who took Borland's advice, after all, anyone 18 or older with a Social Security number, an email address and a mailing address can open a mySocialSecurity online account and maintain it for decades before claiming benefits. However, some users received an unexpected email from the Social Security Administration, saying that their account had been deactivated at their request. 

Naturally, users were concerned. But upon contacting the agency, it appears that no one had access to personal details to change their password. A solution to this issue was to request a direct deposit block on your Social Security account, preventing any additional suspicious activity. This block offers two apparent safeguards. Firstly, it prevents changes to direct deposit information through a financial institution, or through the Social Security site, and it also prevents someone else from changing the mailing address through the Social Security site. 

Another safety measure would be to ask the Social Security Administration to notify its Inspector General about suspected fraud. But what exactly happened when users discovered their account had been deactivated?

The U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) website offered a possible clue. “With full name, birth date and Social Security number a thief can try to open a  my Social Security account in your name and change your direct deposit information to his or her checking account.” It continued, “Coupled with other information that can easily be found online such as place of birth, a thief can try to claim your benefits over the phone.”

social security fraud

The Rising Trend in Compromised Social Security Accounts

The Javelin Strategy and Research firm found nearly a third (30%) of U.S. consumers were notified of a breach in 2017, up from 12% in 2016. And for the first time, Social Security numbers were compromised more than credit card numbers in breaches. According to Javelin, this means that 35% of individuals who were notified that their personal information was involved in a breach in 2017, had their Social Security numbers compromised. 

One reason Social Security number theft is up is because scammers seemed to have shifted tactics. “Over the past couple of months, our helpline has received fewer reports of the IRS scam [a con artist pretending to be from the Internal Revenue Service, demanding money] while complaints about scammers impersonating the Social Security Administration have been on the increase,” said Amy Nofziger, an AARP expert on frauds and scams. “I am aware advisories have been put out for consumers to beware of impersonation schemes,” said Mike Litt, Consumer Campaign Director at U.S. PIRG based in Washington, D.C.

social security fraud

How to Safeguard Your Future Social Security Benefits

So, how can you safeguard your Social Security benefits if you are months or possibly years, away from collecting them? While it may seem counterintuitive experts recommend signing up for a my Social Security account and monitoring it closely. The way to do that is by logging into your Social Security account regularly and checking your personal information, such as your address or date of birth. Any changes you notice, contact the Social Security Administration. 

To report possible fraud or identity theft, Nofziger suggests casting a wide net. “The more reporting entries the better,” she said. So, besides the Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General, the Federal Trade Commission and the Senate Select Committee on Aging fraud hotline 800-303-470. 

If you have a password problem with your Social Security account, call Social Security and answer 'helpdesk' when the auto prompt asks the nature of your call. The administration uses Equifax credit reports for personal identification verification. If a person has a security freeze, fraud alert or both with Equifax, a my Social Security account could not be created.

But, you may be wondering, why were accounts closed without any authorization? “Due to privacy and law enforcement concerns, we cannot comment on any investigative action we take on the allegation going forward,” communications director Andrew Cannarsa wrote in an email.

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