in Identity Theft

The latest tool to be used by identity thieves

Remember when you would receive your social security statement in the mail outlining your reported income along with estimates of the amount of social security you would receive if you retired at a specific age?  If you are saying to yourself “yes, I have not received one of those in a long time” that is because the SSA has embraced the digital age.  The SSA has created a program called MySSA.  This program enables you to view your statement information online.  No more waiting to receive the statement in the mail.  Merely set up an account and you can view your statement whenever you wish.  You also have the ability to apply for social security benefits or to change your payment options if you are currently receiving social security. Technology is wonderful and it has made our lives wonderful.   Not so fast.

If you have never heard of the MySSA program you are not alone.  When I bring up the MySSA program during speaking engagements I see confused looks on the faces in the audience.  That is because many have never heard about this program.  Identity thieves are counting on it.  By you not setting up your online MySSA account you are leaving it open to thieves to set it up on your behalf.  Once they have set up the account they can apply for benefits or redirect your current benefits to their bank account as opposed to yours.  How do I know this?  I have received calls from five victims of the MySSA system within the past four weeks.

But how can a thief set up your account?  Aren’t there security measures in place to protect you?  Yes and no.  In order to set up a MySSA account you must enter your social security number, name, date of birth and other basic sensitive information.  All of which can be purchased by thieves in the personal identifying information online black market.  No I am not going to tell you exactly where they buy it.  This is not a “how-to” for thieves.  Just know it is out there and the thieves are already shopping it on a regular basis.  Now where was I?  Oh yes, so after you enter your sensitive information the SSA will ask you questions specific to your credit report as a means of verifying you are actually you.  Unfortunately many of answers to these questions are available to the general public through a simple Internet search.  Again, I am not going to tell you where the records are found.  Just trust me, as a private investigator I can find more information about a person through simple Internet searches than I can find through a paid service.  Back to the topic.  The thief simply answers the questions and “PRESTO” he has access to your SSA account.

Now all of this does leave a trail if you look in the right place.  The SSA uses Experian to verify your information.  They do this by conducting a simple “soft inquiry” on your credit report.  A “soft inquiry” is one that does NOT go against your credit score.  An easy way to detect MySSA identity theft is by reviewing your Experian credit report.  If you see an inquiry from SSA then someone, either you or a thief,  has set up a MySSA account.  This holds true for every single client of mine that has had a compromised MySSA account.

So what can you do to prevent this from happening to you?  That’s easy!  If you have not already set up you MySSA account do it right now.  Here is the link https://secure.ssa.gov/RIL/SiView.do   You will notice the link begins with “https”, the standard signal of a secured website.  Yes you will have to enter your sensitive information but if you have a good anti-virus program as well as a good firewall then you should be okay.  Don’t get me wrong, nothing is 100% secure.  However, I would prefer to enter my information on their secure site as opposed to letting a thief do it for me.  Once your account has been set up all you need to do is remember your username and password.  Oh, that reminds me.  When setting up your account DO NOT use the same username and password combination you have used for other online accounts.  And of course, keep your username and password stored in a secure location.

You do have another option.  You can also contact the SSA and ask them to block electronic access to your account.  This way you are not entering your information online and you are preventing a thief from doing the same.  Simply contact the SSA  by phone (1-800-772-1213) or by visiting an office in your area.  I suggest you take a book as I have been told it could be an all day affair.

If you attempt to set up your account and you are told that one has already been set up then it is time to mitigate.  First thing to do is to contact the SSA If you are one of the unfortunate to have had your account set up by you will need to contact the SSA at 1-800-772-1213 or by visiting an office in your area.  I suggest you notify them by phone initially and ask them what, if any, documents they required to prove you are the true holder of the social security number.  If you are asked to submit a police report, also known as an identity theft report, you can obtain on by contacting your local law enforcement agency.

Identity theft is here to stay.  Thieves are creating new ways to steal from us on a daily basis. The only way to reduce your risk of becoming the next victim is by know the risks and taking steps to reduce them.  If you feel this information is beneficial please share with friends and family.  Knowledge is power in the fight against identity theft.