The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a helpful online service called My Social Security Account which allows you to set up a personal online account with the SSA that enables you to view your earnings history and estimates of benefits as well as manage your benefits online including changing your address or starting or changing direct electronic deposits of your check into a bank account you may designate. In accordance with a recent executive order requiring federal agencies to provide better authentication for online services, the SSA is now requiring dual factor authentication be used on all My Social Security Accounts so that whenever a person wishes to access his or her account, he or she would first enter his username and password, after which an eight digit security code will be sent to the person’s smartphone to be used to complete the signing in process. Dual factor authentication is an effective security measure used by many companies.
My Social Security Account is a tremendously convenient service, but it also provides a great opportunity for scammers, who have been setting up My Social Security Accounts on behalf of seniors who have not already set up such accounts for themselves. The scammers then make changes to the victim’s account by directing the benefits checks to be sent to bank accounts controlled by the scammers. Even though the Social Security Administration requires verification of personal information by asking questions that only the Social Security recipient should know as part of the process for opening a My Social Security Account, too often this information is available to a determined identity thief who is thereby able to fraudulently open an account in the name of the intended victim. The introduction of dual factor authentication by SSA will not do anything to prevent an identity thief from initially setting up a My Social Security Account in the name of his or her victim.
Just as the best defense against income tax identity theft is to file your income tax return before an identity thief attempts does so in your name, so the best defense against the fraudulent setting up of a My Social Security Account in your name is for you to set one up first and protect its safety with a strong username and password. For information about signing up for a My Social Security Account go to https://ssa.gov/myaccount/
You can also require that any changes to the bank account into which your check is electronically deposited only be done at a Social Security branch office and not on your online account.