A complicated scam is being run that targets Santa Barbara’s elderly community, the police department announced recently. Thieves are contacting Social Security benefit recipients to try to obtain their personal information in order to open a new “my Social Security” account. If they succeed, they hijack benefits by redirecting them to an account the thieves control. The complication is that the Social Security Administration actually offers a legitimate “my Social Security” account.
The thieves are taking advantage of the fact that not all Social Security benefit recipients have opened one of those accounts. In phone calls and emails, the thieves try to get the recipients’ personal information by convincingly pretending to be government officials. They have been known to claim the person has won a lottery or other prize but that they need the private information to allow the person to receive the “winnings.” Some have demanded money for a “fee” or “tax” in order to claim the “winnings.”
According to the Social Security Administration, by opening one of these accounts, a benefits recipient can “eliminate the risk” that an identity thief will open one. The account is normally used to view earnings history and estimated benefits, and also contains links to services. But benefit recipients should never give out the kind of personal information that can be used to open credit accounts, buy homes, claim tax refunds, or other fraudulent activity. Personal information should be protected as you would any other item of value, the SSA stated in a press release.
Social Security’s inspector general advised that if benefits recipients are contacted about their “my Social Security” account, but did not actually open one, they should either visit a Social Security office or call its toll-free number — 1 (800) 772-1213 — to learn if fraud is ongoing. That phone number can also be used to determine if a caller is a legitimate Social Security employee.