WILLIAMSON – A Williamson resident was recently the victim of identity theft after identity thieves posing as the victim used the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) online service to establish an account and attempt to redirect benefits to another address and banking account.
The victim in question does not own a computer and was unaware of any changes made concerning her Social Security benefits until a letter was received thanking her for using the SSA’s online services to create an online account. The letter stated, “On March 12, 2016, you successfully created an online account with the SSA…”
On March 22, the victim received a second correspondence regarding an address change. The letter states, “Thank you for notifying us about your change of address. We have updated your Social Security record. We are sending this letter to the address we previously had on file for you. We are doing this so we can make sure that you were the one who reported the address change. We will send any future letters to the new address. If you reported an address change, you do not need to respond to this letter.”
Kimberly Stephens, Public Affair Specialist, for the SSA, discussed identity theft and redirecting social security benefits. Stephens stated, “The SSA has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to fraud. There have been instances where identity thieves have stolen people’s personal information and then attempted, in a small percentage of cases, to change the direct deposit of a beneficiary’s Social Security or SSI payment. Criminals have attempted this fraud scheme in two ways: through the automated enrollment process with banks and financial institutions or through the Social Security online service. It is important to note that my Social Security accounts and Social Security’s website have not been hacked. This type of fraud occurs when an identity thief steals enough personal information to pose as the victim.”
Stephens also discussed when fraud first became an issue and steps the SSA has taken to protect against fraudulent activity. “Social security first received reports of fraud with automated enrollment in 2012 and with my Social Security accounts in spring 2013.l Social Security took immediate action to fight all fraud attempts via my Social Security. SSA referred all suspected fraud cases and provided information to the Office of the Inspector General for their investigation. The SSA placed blocks on the records of beneficiaries victimized by identity thieves to prevent further fraudulent online activity and strengthened the online registration process by making identity verification and authentication more stringent. Additionally, fraud prevention measures have been put in place and continuously monitor my Social Security online services.”
Stephens explained that creating my Social Security account can help prevent becoming a victim of fraud. “If a person already has an account, a fraudulent attempt would not be successful. The Social Security service has a robust verification and authentication process and remains safe and secure. Over 20 million people have created my Social Security account to date. The most important thing for the public to be aware of is the need to protect their personal information. People should be careful when they provide their information,” Stephens said.
To further protect against fraud and identity theft, Stephens suggested not responding to unsolicited calls or emails requesting personal information and only using trusted websites. Stephens also stated, “Social Security does not normally call people to ask for their banking information or other private information. If in doubt, people should not release information without first verifying the validity of the call. Write down the caller’s name and telephone number, and then contact the local Social Security office or call the SSA’s toll free number to confirm that the caller is an employee.”
If one suspects that they have been the victim of Social Security payment fraud, the Inspector General can be contacted at 1-800-269-0271 or visit http://oig.ssa.gov/report-fraud-waste-or-abuse General questions to resolve payment issues should be directed to Social Security.
If one suspects that they are the victim of identity theft, contact the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-IDTHEFT or go to www.idtheft.gov and click on the link for “Report Identity Theft.”
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(Courtney Pigman is a news reporter for the Williamson Daily News. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 304-235-4242 ext. 2279.)