As our readers know, I am particularly interested in protecting our seniors from fraud. They continue to be a vulnerable population and unfortunately, here is another scam that makes me mad: social security fraud.
Many elect to have their social security payments deposited by direct deposit, and in fact, it is required by the Social Security Administration (SSA). SSA has an online portal management system that recipients can check, much like an online banking account, to confirm that their payments have been deposited into their account.
Individuals have been advised to register for the online portal whether you receive benefits or not, as there is a rise in cases where identity thieves are registering in your name without your knowledge before you do and then divert your funds into their bank account.
The scam works like this: the fraudster goes to the online portal and uses your personal information and requests that the social security benefits be diverted to prepaid debit cards or green dot cards. It is very similar to what we have seen repeatedly with fraudulent tax returns being filed in individuals’ names and a tax refund being provided in the form of a prepaid debit card. Unfortunately, the fraudsters can also register by phone by giving SSA your name, birthdate, place of birth, address, mother’s maiden name and telephone number. Most of this information is easily accessible online and is not tricky.
In some cases, when someone signs you up for social security benefits or payments, a letter will be sent in the mail to confirm the enrollment. But if the fraudster changes your address, you may never know this has happened unless you check the portal frequently.
More than 34 million people in the U.S. interact with the SSA through the online portal. The SSA’s Office of Inspector General found that between February 2013 and February 2016, 30,000 suspicious MySSA registrations occurred and over 58,000 allegations of fraud related to MySSA accounts were reported.
If you already receive social security benefits, check your online account frequently, as you would your online banking account. Check all of the information carefully, including your demographic information to make sure it hasn’t been changed or altered even slightly. If you are close to receiving benefits, consider signing up now so no one else can sign up in your name.
Finally, if you have been the victim of a data breach and you are considering placing a credit freeze on your credit accounts with the four credit bureaus, you may wish to consider activating your MySSA online account before you activate the credit freeze, as you will not be able to activate the MySSA account once you activate a credit freeze with the credit bureaus. The good news is that if you have already implemented a credit freeze, it appears that a fraudster will not be able to open your MySSA account either. For questions or concerns, SSA’s toll free number is 1-800-772-1213.