Identity theft continues to grow, and your Social Security benefits are a favorite target of
the identity thieves.
After the thieves obtain your Social Security number and other personal information, they apply for benefits in your name, if you aren’t already receiving benefits, and have the money deposited
in their own accounts. If you’re already receiving benefits, they try to redirect the benefit payments to their bank accounts.
The Social Security Administration doesn’t release information on identity theft and related incidents involving benefits. But an Inspector General’s report in 2015 sampled some data from 2013. It found that about $20 million in benefits for 12,200 recipients were misdirected to the wrong bank accounts. That’s less than 2% of online bank deposits of benefits. The IG also found the agency was able to prevent
another $6 million belonging to 5,300 beneficiaries from being misdirected.
The problem is only going to get worse as the Baby Boomers continue to reach Social Security eligibility age.
Take steps to protect your Social Security benefits even if you’re not already receiving them. As you approach age 62, the benefits will be attractive to thieves. You need to take preventive actions, even
if you don’t plan to apply for benefits for years.
The best way to protect your benefits is to set up a MySocialSecurity account on the Social Security web site at www.socialsecurity.gov. The account has a number of features, such as helping you estimate the benefits you’d receive under different claiming scenarios and checking the accuracy of your earnings history. You’ll also be able to apply for benefits online when you’re ready and take other actions.
Another advantage of the account is that it lets you check any activity related to your Social Security number. If someone applies for benefits in your name or tries to change your address or the bank account to which your benefits are deposited, you’ll see it in the account. Once you set up the account, check it periodically to see if there’s been any activity. Contact Social Security if, for example, you see benefits were applied for in your name.
An alternative is to call Social Security’s toll-free number periodically to ask if there has been any activity in your account. You also can ask what your latest estimated benefits are.
When you’re receiving benefits, be sure your benefits are being deposited on a timely basis in your bank
account. When a deposit isn’t made, contact Social Security. It could be the first sign that someone obtained your information and used it to divert the benefits to their bank account.
Social Security is good about restoring benefits once you alert them to the theft and convince them you didn’t authorize the change. But the faster you act and the more steps you take to prevent the theft or catch it early, the easier it will be to resolve the problem and restore your benefits.