Imagine that you’re finally ready to claim your retirement benefits and contact the Social Security Administration, only to find out that someone has been claiming your hard-earned benefits for years, and directing those monthly checks to a bank you’ve never heard of.
It can happen.
Social Security is asking more American workers to request benefits and direct queries to the agency through its website, providing a bonanza for clever cyber-scammers who have stepped up attacks on the Social Security system in an attempt to steal what’s yours.
Like any database, the Social Security system has been proven vulnerable to attacks.
“The Social Security Administration is a treasure trove for hackers. The agency holds data on nearly every American, averages about 70 million monthly beneficiaries, and paid roughly $1 trillion in benefits in fiscal 2018, mostly through electronic transactions,” says Kiplinger.
Hackers have plenty of different scams in play. Here’s 2 popular scams, and how to protect yourself.
Scam #1: Scammers are fraudulently accessing your records at the Social Security Administration, and redirecting benefits from your bank to theirs. You won’t notice until your direct deposit suddenly goes missing.
The solution: Make sure you’ve set up your personal online account at SSA. You can do this at www.ssa.gov/myaccount. If you’ve never accessed your account or set up any passwords, you’ve left the door wide open for hackers. Make sure you set up your own account before someone else does it pretending to be you, says security expert Brian Krebs, in an interview with Kiplinger.
It’s important to do this whether you’re already claiming Social Security or not. If you’re not, someone can claim on your behalf and siphon off your benefits. And if you are claiming, they can still change your address and divert your checks to another bank account. Social Security is stepping up the security – including the introduction of 2-factor identification – to keep you safer.
Scam #2: Potential hackers may call you, pretending to be from the Social Security Administration. Your caller ID may even show that the call is coming from the folks at Social Security, but don’t believe it for a minute. They’re just “spoofing” the legitimate number, all in an elaborate attempt to get you to hand over personal information, passwords, and PINs, which they’ll use to steal your money.
The solution: If you’re not sure whether the call is real or a fake, take a few extra minutes to call or contact the Social Security Administration at their legit number to see what’s up. It could save you money and protect you from identity fraud.