News & Resources

Social Security benefits identity thieves

Oct 03, 2012 Dave King

Government officials are warning that an increase in Social Security identity theft could be the reason why an expected federal payment fails to materialize. According to the Tampa Bay Times, retirees are being targeted by criminals who often employ identity scamming techniques to obtain personal information from potential victims. This information can then be used to reroute money due from Social Security Administration, or change the address of pre-loaded ACH cards that are intended for retired recipients or veterans. Rash of fraudulent activity
Figures released by the Social Security's Office of the Inspector General revealed that an unauthorized change to personal information or direct deposit routing number is flagged up at least 50 times per day, with the office seeing this as a "rash of fraudulent activity." A year after the agency began tracking the number of attempted changes that were appearing on the system, a Congressional sub-committee was informed that there had been 19,000 potential fraud reports, a situation that Inspector General Patrick P. O' Carroll Jr. has described as "a serious issue facing SSA." "That doesn't mean there are 19,000 victims, said Jonathan L. Lasher, assistant inspector general for external relations. "Innocent error by the beneficiary, bank or Social Security Administration is sometimes to blame. One small study of 33 cases last fall found five attributable to input mistakes. But most victims had given out, or lost, their personal information to identity scammers." Electronic benefits
Ninety-four percent of Social Security recipients get paid electronically, but the concern among state officials is centered around those who receive benefits on pre-loaded debit cards or ACH cards that can be easily sidetracked through identity theft or inadequate verification techniques at field offices. O'Carroll has called these cards "particularly tempting tools for benefit thieves," a situation that the Inland Revenue has already experienced after $468 million was fraudulently claimed last year in Tampa alone. However, some members of the Secret Service feel that Social Security fraud could be the next wave of financial criminal activity, especially as next March is the deadline for all beneficiaries who currently receive paper checks to switch to an electronic deposit. "What irks me the most about Social Security benefits is that people are on a fixed income and they depend on that check coming in," said John Joyce, stationed in Tampa. "Your tax refund, you know it's coming, but you don't depend on it month by month. It's the elderly now being targeted. It's tragic."