Social Insecurity

How safe is your parent’s online social security account?

Her mother’s social security deposit showed up on time every month for 20 years. 

Until it didn’t.

That’s how Liz Birenbaum discovered someone hijacked her 88-year-old mother’s online Social Security account and changed the direct deposit information.

Just as shocking, says Birenbaum, was the indifferent response from a Social Security agent: “This happens all the time.” 

Diverted direct deposits have been a problem since Social Security introduced my Social Security account online access in 2012. 

Improved verification methods have helped, but like all efforts to fight online fraud, deterrence is an endless game of Whac-A-Mole.

What You Can Do

Make sure mom has a my Social Security account. Unclaimed online accounts are low-hanging fruit for criminals who use social security numbers as a digital skeleton key for fraud and identity theft.

Pro Tip: If you haven’t set up your own online account, don’t wait until you’re eligible for benefits! Why give scammers time to put together enough personal data to open one in your name before you do? Get started here.

Mindful monitoring matters. Is dad checking his account regularly? Is the contact and direct deposit information still accurate? Are there signs of any weird or unexpected changes or activity? 

Don’t get complacent. The fact that nothing has changed in dad’s account for years doesn’t mean it can’t. Just ask Liz Birenbaum.

Important: Signs of financial decline and cognitive impairment are red flags your parent is at greater risk for being conned by scammers. If you’re checking bank and credit card statements for signs of fraud, do the same for their social security account.

Talk about government impersonation scams. Social Security agents do not call, email, or text asking for social security numbers or personal information. 

Criminals do — and they are good at creating fear and panic to get what they want. So being aware of common scams and tactics is key. Start with these simple tips.

Want More Peace of Mind?

Social Security does offer ways to block account access. But this additional peace of mind comes with an additional hassle: Setting up and removing these blocks requires your parent to go to their local Social Security office. 

direct deposit fraud prevention block stops anyone — including your parent — from setting up or changing dad’s address or direct deposit details online. Any future changes to direct deposit or contact info must be made in person. 

An e-services block is the nuclear option for online account security. It prevents anyone — including your parent — from accessing or changing account information online or by using the automated phone service.

An e-services block may make sense if mom gladly shares her social security number with every scammer who asks for it. But if that’s the case, there’s another step you need to consider…

When Mom Needs More Help

What happens if mom is no longer capable of managing her benefits?

Social Security can authorize you to manage mom’s benefits as her Representative Payee. And yes, approval is required even if you have legal financial Power of Attorney.

This responsibility comes with requirements that govern how mom’s social security income is managed for her benefit. You’ll also have to file an online annual report of how payments are spent or saved, which Social Security has the right to review at any time.

The approval process starts by scheduling an in-person appointment at your local Social Security office to complete an application and verify your identity.

Call Your Local Social Security Office

No one wants to call Social Security. But when you have to, you’re almost always better off connecting with an agent in your local office. 

But finding that direct number using the official Social Security Office Locator isn’t always as easy as you’d think. 

The Locator will give you the street address and operating hours for your local office. But sometimes the only phone number listed is the national 800 number. Which is not at all helpful (to be polite) — and what happened to me.

Here’s the workaround: Call the national number. When the system finally asks, “how can I help you?” say “Office Locations.” When you provide your zip code, the system will tell you the street address and operating hours, followed by the direct local number.

I know. It’s absurd. Just be sure to save that number. Someday, you’re going to need it.

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