Laurence Kotlikoff, a contributor at Forbes, asked the question we thought of–and likely many Social Security beneficiaries, too–after Equifax’s major security breach exposing up to 143 million of our Social Security numbers to potential criminals:
How could this massive breach of critical Social Security information affect our ability to claim or receive our benefits should a thief choose to target us?
While media outlets have focused on how such a breach might affect those still working in the form of phony loans and credit cards taken out with stolen Social Security numbers, very little attention has been paid to those currently or soon to claim Social Security benefits.
But according to Kotlikoff, beneficiaries absolutely have cause for concern.
As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, one such concern may involve a program that scammers have already exploited with great success to hijack retirees’ Social Security payments.
My Social Security, a program that the Social Security Administration created to make accessing, editing, and managing your Social Security account much more convenient, is a huge target for thieves.
With just a few pieces of someone’s basic personal information, a thief can easily impersonate their victim, gain access to their account, and edit the details to reroute direct deposit payments into an account specified by the thief.
Typically, these details are acquired via manipulating the victim into offering them up. But a breach like this easily gives thieves everything they need to steal someone’s benefits without ever contacting him.
“Imagine you are 62, retired, but waiting till 70 to collect your Social Security benefit. Further, suppose that a thief with your personal data, including your Social Security number, notifies Social Security that you have moved and provides a new address. The thief then can file for your early retirement benefits and have the checks sent to this new address or wired to his/her bank account…
… Eight years later you turn 70 and you file for your retirement benefit only to be told you’ve been receiving it for 8 years. What do you do?”
It’s Kotlikoff’s opinion that people currently collecting Social Security have just as much of a reason to worry.
Kotlikoff offers several pieces of advice for beneficiaries looking to protect themselves from any potential Social Security theft that may result from this breach, including immediately making copies of your Social Security earnings record and any statements related to your benefits.
For more information about how you can protect yourself from becoming a victim in this latest data breach, you can read the rest of Kolitkoff’s recommendations right here.