Last fall, after the Equifax breach, Jim Borland, acting deputy commissioner for communications at the Social Security Administration wrote a blog post on the agency website headlined ‘Protecting Your Social Security.’
The advice in the blog post is still applicable today: everyone should go to the Social Security website and create an account. It’s a gateway to many online services from the Social Security Administration, and if you don’t set up your account, there is a greater chance that someone can set one up using your name. By creating your account, says Next Avenue in the article “Protect Yourself Against Social Security Identity Theft,” you can try to preempt this form of Social Security theft.
One woman took this advice, since anyone who is older than 18 and has a Social Security number, and email and a mailing address, is allowed to open an account, even if they are decades away from claiming any benefits. However, within nine months of doing so, she received an email from the Social Security Administration saying they were deactivating her account. What happened?
She hadn’t done anything. No one else, as far as she knew, had access to the account. Therefore, she called the Social Security Administration and requested a direct deposit block on her account. This did two things: it prevented changes to direct deposit information through a financial institution or through the Social Security website. It also stops anyone who might be trying to change a mailing address.
Some further research resulted in information about what might have happened. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group website reports that with a name, birth date and Social Security number, a thief can try to open an account in your name and then change your direct deposit information to their checking account. It’s not that hard to gather that information online.
A 2018 report from the Javelin Strategy and Research firm found that nearly 30% of Americans were notified of a breach of their accounts in 2017. That’s up from 12% in 2016 and cost $16.8 billion dollars.
Scammers have shifted tactics. One consumer helpline reports that there have been fewer complaints about people impersonating IRS agents demanding money and an increase of complaints about people impersonating Social Security Administration representatives.
How can you protect yourself?
If you haven’t already done so, sign up for a “my Social Security” account. Check it on a regular basis to monitor your address information or date of birth. If you see any information that has changed or is wrong, contact the Social Security Administration immediately.
If there’s any fraud or identity theft, you may also want to contact fraud hotlines at the Social Security Administration, Office of the Inspector General, the Federal Trade Commission and the Senate Select Committee on Aging.
If you have a problem logging into your account because the password has changed, call the Social Security and ask for “helpdesk,” when the system asks why you are calling.
Reference: Next Avenue (Jan. 17, 2019) “Protect Yourself Against Social Security Identity Theft”