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Identity theft is a problem for everyone, but the risk increases the closer you get to retirement age and start collecting Social Security benefits. These benefits are a favorite target for identity thieves, which means it’s important to take steps ahead of time to lessen the risk of being victimized.
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Identity thieves are much more sophisticated now than they were back when their main option was to steal Social Security checks out of mailboxes, Retirement Weekly editor Bob Carlson wrote in a recent column for Forbes. These days, thieves use fake email, fake websites and fraudulent telephone calls to get your Social Security number and start filing for benefits in your name.
“The scams will escalate as the Baby Boomers age, and the large Millennial cohort right behind the Boomers makes a continuation of such scams likely,” Carlson wrote. “You’re a potential victim whether or not you’re already receiving benefits.”
To reduce the risk, he recommends setting up a mySocialSecurity account at SSA.gov. Among its features is a calculator to estimate the benefits you can receive under different scenarios and a tool that lets you check the accuracy of your earnings history. You will also be able to apply for benefits online.
From a security standpoint, a mySocialSecurity account lets you check activity associated with your Social Security number, which means you can find out if someone applies for benefits in your name or attempts to change your address or the bank account where your benefits are deposited. Be sure to review the account every so often to see if there is any suspicious activity you don’t recognize.
You can also call the Social Security Administration’s toll-free number periodically to check if there has been any activity in your account.
Once you start receiving benefits, it is important to ensure your monthly payment is deposited on time into your bank account. If you notice that a deposit is late, contact the SSA to find out what happened.
Here are some other steps you can take to reduce the risk of someone stealing your Social Security info:
- Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or give out your SSN unless absolutely necessary.
- Don’t share personal information, such as your SSN, with anyone you don’t know or trust.
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If you think you’ve been the victim of Social Security identity theft, the SSA recommends visiting IdentityTheft.gov to report it and get a recovery plan. The site, which is managed by the Federal Trade Commission, guides you through each step of the recovery process. You can also call 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338) or TTY 1-866-653-4261.
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