The Equifax breach exposed names, addresses, birthdates and social security numbers of 145 million Americans. This is exactly the information a scammer would need to take advantage of a social security recipient - who hasn’t yet set up their own “My Social Security Account”.
Any Social Security recipient who has not already set up their own “My Social Security Account” is advised to do so immediately!
In case you are not aware, the Social Security Administration (SSA) provides an online service that enables a Social Security recipient to set up their own personal account with the SSA. Once your personal account is set up, it enables you to do a variety of tasks. You can view your earnings history and estimates of benefits. You can also manage your benefits online, such as changing your address or changing your direct deposit information.
In light of the recent Equifax breach, Scammers will seek to take full advantage of this SSA service. Therefore, a Social Security recipient who hasn’t already set up their own “My Social Security Account” should do so ASAP. Otherwise, they may discover that a Scammer has already beat them to the punch, by using the data exposed from the Equifax breach.
Once a Scammer sets up a “My Social Security Account” (using the victim’s breached information), they have the ability to make changes to the victim’s account. They will make changes to the direct deposit info and have the money sent to a bank account - controlled by the Scammer.
Be sure to use a long and strong password when you set up your account by using the first letters of a sentence or phrase and mix it up with numbers and symbols. Use a mix of upper and lower case letters too and make your password at least 10-12 characters long.
Once your account is set up, you can require that any changes to the bank account, into which your check is electronically deposited, can only be done at a Social Security branch office instead of through your online account.
Finally, if you already have a Credit Freeze in place, you will need to go to a Social Security office to open a “My Social Security Account”, in person, because SSA will not be able to verify your identity online. Alternatively, you can temporarily “lift” the freeze on your Equifax file, for a few days until the Government can verify your identity.
For more information about setting up an account visit the SSA website. The website address is: https://ssa.gov/myaccount/
Linda Vitale is an AARP Fraud Watch Network volunteer educator, on a mission to educate the public about scams, fraud and ID theft.