While SSA is pushing for more disability and retirement benefit recipients to sign up for electronic payment in lieu of a paper check, scammers are working harder than ever to put those benefits in their own bank accounts.
For example, some Social Security benefit recipients – senior citizens in particular – have been victimized by a scam that asks them for their bank information in order to claim a big cash prize. Instead of a prize, their monthly benefits are stolen.
According to a CNN Money article published on September 26th , all an identity thief needs is a name and a bank account number in order to have the benefits re-routed to their own accounts. Given all the security measures SSA requires to disclose information about a particular person or their claim (name, date of birth, mother’s maiden name, city of birth, etc.), this is incredibly shocking.
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) reported that as of August 31st, 2012, their office received over 19,000 reports of “questionable” changes or attempts to change beneficiary’s direct deposit information. In response, SSA spokesman Mark Hinkle stated that these reports represent only a “tiny fraction” of the 711 million electronic payments SSA has made to benefit recipients up until August 31st, 2012.
SSA stated they cannot comment on particular cases. However, Hinkle stated that not all cases of wrong payments are due to fraud.
The inspector general said that SSA needs to make vast improvements as far as correctly identifying benefit recipients that want to change their direct deposit information. Recommendations include sending letters, emails or text messages to the benefit recipient whenever direct deposit information is changed, or develop unique routing numbers for the pre-paid cards, since these are of particular interest to identity thieves because they are harder to track.
Currently, SSA has a system in place that allows a benefit recipient to completely block access to his or her Social Security account. This also includes the benefit recipient. This way, no changes can be made whatsoever unless the benefit recipient visits their local field office and presents a photo I.D., and requests the block to be removed. Electronic access to make changes can be blocked as well. This can be accomplished online by visiting www.socialsecurity.gov/blockaccess.
However, in light of these findings by the OIG, is this enough? With so many Americans depending on disability or retirement payments to get by, a typing error is just as unacceptable as lax security. What will be done about it?
If someone contacts you via email or phone asking for personal information, never give it out. If it has been a few days since you expected your benefit to be deposited into your account, contact SSA as soon as possible. If you hired an attorney to obtain your benefits, contact their office for assistance immediately. Your attorney will protect your rights and make sure SSA does everything properly for you.
Written by Anna Westfall & edited by Attorney Andrew November
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