Social Security Theft Is on the Rise: Be Prepared and Protected

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”

Police Warn about Scammers Targeting Seniors

Authorities are warning vulnerable seniors about phone scammers, who call and claim to be police officers, IRS agents and other government officials. One woman received a call just days after her husband died and his obituary was published in a local newspaper, reports Newsday in the article “Nassau, Suffolk police warn of phone scammers posing as officials.”

She was told that her grandson had been arrested and charged with possession of illegal drugs. To get him out of prison, the caller directed her to buy $8,000 in gift cards from a national electronics store. Frightened, the woman did as she was instructed, and gave the man the personal identification numbers on the cards when the man called her back.

Only afterwards did she realize that the man had gotten her name and her grandson’s name from her husband’s obituary. Embarrassed by her failure to realize it was a scam, she decided to speak out in the hopes it would prevent another vulnerable senior from falling victim.

Seniors are being warned to be wary of these kinds of con artists. Unfortunately, the scams are successful and that’s why they continue. Swindlers typically call victims and tell them they must take action immediately, or something very bad will happen. They sound like they mean business, and often the phone numbers that appear on the screen seem to be from a government agency. The phone numbers have been “spoofed”—altered to appear to come from a legitimate place. However, it’s all a scam.

Authorities say that many victims who are targeted are elderly, because they may not be aware of how much detailed information can now be obtained by strangers. When the caller uses their name, or names of other family members, the victim believes the call is from a legitimate agency.

However, here’s a key point: No government agency calls to demand payment in gift cards.

If the caller says they are calling from the local police station, hang up, call the local precinct to verify if the caller really works there. The same goes for utility companies or any other company allegedly threatening to turn off services. You should also note that the IRS never makes phone calls about overdue tax bills.

Anyone who receives such a call, regardless of their age, should immediately hang up.

Reference: Newsday (Jan. 4, 2019) “Nassau, Suffolk police warn of phone scammers posing as officials”