Scammers victimize recipients of electronic Social Security payments

Many people in Oakland County, Michigan, rely on their monthly Social Security Disability benefits to get by. Unfortunately, scammers have begun targeting the recipients of Social Security benefits and stealing those payments. It's important for anyone receiving Social Security disability benefits or other benefits to understand what they can do to protect themselves against this fraud.

Electronic payments leave room for abuse

Now that Social Security payments can be disbursed electronically, some thieves are intercepting payments intended for other people, according to USA Today. Scammers who have obtained an individual's information can set up an online Social Security account with direct deposits that go directly onto a prepaid debit card, rather than into a bank account owned by the person whose number is being used.

According to USA Today, more than 40,000 cases of this type of scam have been reported. This may seem like a small figure, considering that a reported 62 million people receive some form of payment from the Social Security Administration. However, the estimated loss for payments stolen over a nine-month payment is $17.4 million, as determined during an Inspector General's office audit.

Some victims realize that their payments have been stolen when the payment does not arrive. Others, according to USA Today, are tipped off when they receive print confirmation that they've set up an online account, even though they haven't ever set one up.

It's usually easy for Social Security recipients to show that their addresses and bank accounts do not match the ones entered online by scammers. These recipients often receive all the payments that they are owed, albeit behind schedule. Still, the delays and stress can put a significant strain on individuals who really count on their monthly checks for their financial survival.

Fortunately, there are a few measures that Social Security recipients can take to significantly lower their chance of being victimized.

Preventing Social Security scams

The Social Security Administration has provided various guidelines to help prevent fraud, which were shared in the USA Today article and in a separate SSA press release. These measures include:

  • Open a "My Social Security" online account, so that someone else cannot use your information to create one.
  • Contact a Social Security office and change your account settings so that direct deposit changes are blocked.
  • Always protect your personal information when an unverified person or agency contacts you.
  • If someone contacts you and says he or she works for the SSA, contact your local SSA office to confirm that you are talking to a legitimate employee.
  • Don't accept prepaid or credit cards with someone else's name on them.

Most of these tips are easy to implement. People who follow them can make it significantly harder for identity thieves to obtain the information that they need to carry out their fraud.

It's important for people to be aware of the risk of Social Security fraud - and advise friends and family members to do the same - since an increasing number of people are receiving Social Security benefits.

If you are preparing to apply for Social Security disability benefits, you should speak with an attorney first. An experienced attorney can improve your likelihood of getting approved while helping you avoid inadvertent fraud during the application process.