From GPS to banking to shopping and almost everything else, technology has made the most inconvenient parts of our lives exponentially easier. Even the old joke about waiting at the DMV has become obsolete as agencies offer online scheduling for appointments so you won’t idle for hours in an uncomfortable chair. And Social Security is no different. In recent years, spurred equally by budget cuts and the digital revolution, the Social Security Administration has shifted nearly everything involving benefits online to SSA.gov.
But where consumers see convenience, hackers see dollar signs. Imagine a database where a social security number is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to information about individuals, all of whom may be a few decades behind on the digital revolution, making them easy targets. That’s the focus of a recent Reuters article, Social Security Online Accounts: Safe From Identity Theft?, which chronicles SSA’s shift online and how scammers have used it to steal from unsuspecting elderly folks. Here’s just one example:
An OIG investigation conducted with the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation led to the conviction in 2014 of a Miami man for creating more than 900 fraudulent MySSA accounts, and redirecting roughly $700,000 in benefit payments to bank accounts he controlled.
While the SSA says it’s increasing its digital security efforts, recent high profile hacks in the public and private sector have shown that determined fraudsters will find a way. The best advice experts can offer is to get out in front of the problem and register your Social Security account online before someone with sticky fingers does it for you.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) says it does not track data on the prevalence of identity theft, but last fall it advised the public in a blog post that the best way to avoid problems is to create an account to “take away the risk of someone else trying to create one in your name, even if they obtain your Social Security number.”
The worry is that cyber thieves could claim accounts and file for benefits. “If you don’t plant your flag someone might do it for you,” said Brian Krebs, a cyberspace security researcher and writer.
As with any aspect of digital security, prevention is key. Choose products and methods with security in mind before a hack affects you.