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Social Security Benefits are a New Target for Identity Thieves

Identity thieves have found a new way to make money — by targeting monthly Social Security benefits. Social Security has been encouraging people to do more business with the Social Security Administration online and to request direct deposit of their benefits to their bank accounts. But as a result, it can take a thief just a few minutes to go online and redirect your payment to their bank account.

Many victims do not realize that anything is wrong until their payment does not arrive. That is what happened to Maria Elena Ruiz of Miami. Maria Elena handles her father’s financial affairs, since he suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. She went to pay his bills and found out that there was no money in his bank account.

Social Security has been informed of about 600 cases of identity theft in the period from February to April 2013. The agency has reminded beneficiaries to protect their personal information.

Maria Elena does not know how the thief got her father’s name, birth date and Social Security number, but it is clear that anyone who works in his bank or doctor’s office could be the culprit. Professional identity thieves often pay people with access to this type of information and use it to redirect payments to their own accounts.

Besides protecting your personal information as much as possible, there is one other very important step that Maria Elena did not take. She got a letter from Social Security telling her that someone had set up online access to her father’s account, but she ignored it, thinking that it was a mistake. The letter tells beneficiaries that if they have not opened an online account (or made a change on their account, such as the mailing address or bank account information), they should contact Social Security immediately.

Social Security emphasizes that beneficiaries should not be afraid to set up online access. In fact, having your own account makes it impossible for a thief to open an account using your personal information. Beneficiaries who have been victimized are not without recourse — you can get Social Security to replace the missing funds, but it takes time. Social Security will not investigate a missing payment until it is at least 30 days late. If your payment has not arrived, you can contact our office.

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