How Safe Are Electronic Social Security Benefits From Fraud?
Q: Recently I got a notice that my bank account was overdrawn. When I checked with the bank, my Social Security direct deposit was never received. I called the local Social Security office and learned that a request in my name was made to switch from my direct deposit account to a prepaid debit card. I never authorized this. How safe are the direct deposits and what can I do to get my money back?
A: Since the government transitioned from paper checks to less expensive electronic payment methods, the Social Security Office of Inspector General (OIG) has been investigating unauthorized changes to direct deposits that redirect seniors' benefit payments into accounts set up by crooks. As of June 1, 2013, the OIG’s office has received more 50 reports per day involving attempts to make such a change, most often involving redirecting benefits to the prepaid Direct Express debit card accounts.
According to testimony from a hearing on the problem held by the Senate Special Committee on Aging, fraudsters are "hijacking" federal benefits by using personal information such as name, date of birth and Social Security number. One victim who testified, Alexandra Lane, 73, of Florida went through a 50-day ordeal to recover close to $3,500 worth of payments, which was not resolved until she turned to Senator Bill Nelson (FL) for assistance. Getting the money back has taken even longer, almost six months, for others.
Here are a few things to do:
- Read all notices from the Social Security Administration and carefully check the deposit information. If it doesn’t agree with your bank account, contact Social Security at once.
- Contact Social Security and ask about placing a "block" on your account. This would prevent changes from being made regarding your address and payment deposit. The "block" would require that you visit your local Social Security office in person to authorize changes.
- Carefully protect personal information, including your full name, address, bank account, and Social Security numbers. Never give that information out to unsolicited callers.
- If you receive a call from a person claiming to be from SSA, and that person asks you to provide your Social Security number or other information don't give it out over the phone. Contact your local SSA and report the call – it's likely to be a scam.
- If your problems persist and you have trouble collecting your back due Social Security payment, contact the constituent services staff member of your Representative in the House or one of your two Senators here.
Sources: Statement: Social Security Payments Go Paperless, Honorable Patrick P. O’Carroll, Jr., Inspector General, Social Security Administration, June 19, 2013.