Yes, I realize there has been a lot of Social Security talk at this blog lately but it is the majority of retirement income for most of us and therefore of crucial importance.
Today's story, however, is different from politicians trying to hijack Social Security for their rich friends on Wall Street. This is about a more ordinary kind of crook stealing people's monthly benefit. This recent news report from the ABC affiliate in Baltimore succinctly explains how the scam works.
If for some reason you can't view this video, here's a good print explanation from CNN:
”In a new scam targeting seniors and the disabled, identity thieves are fraudulently rerouting Social Security benefits to their own bank accounts and prepaid debit cards.
“It's pretty straightforward: Identity thieves get their hands on the personal information they need, like a full name and bank account number. Then they contact the Social Security Administration and request that payments be rerouted to their own accounts.”
How do scammers get that information to reroute Social Security checks? In September, Patrick J. O'Carroll Jr., the inspector general of the Social Security Administration (SSA), explained during a Congressional hearing:
”Many of these fraud schemes begin with a phone call or email announcing that you have won a lottery, but you must first send money or provide your bank account information so the company can deposit your winnings.
“The truth is, no legitimate company will make an unsolicited call asking for money upfront in exchange for additional winnings; or for personal information like a Social Security number or bank account number.”
Mr. O'Carroll made an additional warning in a recent fraud advisory issued from his office:
”In the most recent scam, identity thieves pose as government officials in an attempt to convince you to provide personal and financial information. They may claim to be SSA employees - or FEMA employees, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy - and ask for Social Security numbers and bank information to 'make sure' that you can receive your benefits.”
Now, you may think you would not fall for these scams but the fact is the majority of fraud victims (maybe 80 percent) are people age 65 and older.
Just as I was beginning to write this post yesterday, an email arrived from Cop Car of Cop Car's Beat with a link to a story explaining why old people so often fall for this stuff:
”One explanation may lie in a brain region that serves as a built-in crook detector. Called the anterior insula, this structure - which fires up in response to the face of an unsavory character - is less active in older people, possibly making them less cagey than younger folks, a new study finds.”
I'm not sure I buy the idea of a crook detector built into our brains, let alone that it works less well in elders, but you can read about it here if you want to know more about the study. I'm waiting for additional research.
Back to this growing scam to re-route Social Security check deposits.
Amazingly, it takes only a single phone call to the Social Security Administration to change the account to which your check is deposited. In the past couple of months there have been Congressional hearings about this and how to fix it. New York Senator Charles Schumer issued this statement:
"It shouldn't take just one phone call and a scrap of information for a thief to reroute Social Security payments to a fake bank account. Social Security is a lifeline to seniors, and a thief shouldn't be able to sever that line with a snap of their finger."
He's right but it is still going on. So while we wait for Congress and/or the Social Security Administration to implement a solution, here's my advice:
- Never respond to people you don't know who ask for financial information by telephone. Your answer to such requests should be an automatic no and an immediate hang up
- In the case of email, delete the message without responding
And here is something you can do now – block electronic access to your Social Security account. As that SSA webpage notes – this is important:
”When you do this, no one, including you, will be able to see or change your personal information on the Internet or through our automated telephone service.”
There may be good reasons you do not want to do that, but the option is there.
There is no story at The Elder Storytelling Place today.