The financial exploitation of seniors is already a problem. Now with the massive data breach by Equifax, it’s just one more thing to concern the elderly.
Many people are scrambling, trying to put in place credit freezes to prevent identity thieves from opening up credit in their name. But if you expect to get a Social Security check or you’re already getting a benefit there’s something else you should do and fast.
You need to go online and open a my Social Security account. Do this before someone uses your stolen information to hijack this extremely important portal for your Social Security benefits.
As the Motley Fool’s Maurie Backman points out, “Someone could, in theory, access your information at some point or another, file for benefits as you (either immediately or once you become eligible), direct those benefits to a new address, and collect them for years with you none the wiser. Then, when you finally decide it’s time to file for benefits, you’ll learn that you have supposedly been receiving them for years.”
Armed with publicly available information and data stolen in the Equifax breach — your address, Social Security, driver’s license and credit card numbers — identity thieves could have enough to get through the security to set up an online Social Security account.
“A my Social Security account is your gateway to many of our online services,” wrote Social Security’s Jim Borland, acting deputy commissioner for communications in a blog post last week. “Create your account today and take away the risk of someone else trying to create one in your name, even if they obtain your Social Security number.”
Here’s something else to keep in mind. If you’ve placed a freeze or fraud alert on your credit file, you will not be able to open the account until you unlock the file. Social Security uses information in your file to verify your identity. You can open an account in person by going to a local Social Security office.
Get ahead of possible identity theft by creating your Social Security account.
Borland offered some additional tips in his blog post: Protecting Your Social Security. If having an online Social Security account worries you, there is an option to block electronic access for yourself or anyone else.
“You can block any automated telephone and electronic access to your Social Security record,” Borland writes. “No one, including you, will be able to see or change your personal information on the internet or through our automated telephone service.”
The block isn’t permanent. You can unblock access at any time.
Here’s the link to block access.
If you have an online account and haven’t logged on in some time, you do need to access your account to beef up security.
“Take advantage of our second method to identify you each time you log in,” Borland writes. “This is in addition to our first layer of security, a username and password. You can choose either your cellphone number or your email address as your second identification method. Using two ways to identify you when you sign on will help protect your account from unauthorized use and potential identity theft.”
Retirement rants and raves
I’m interested in your experiences or concerns about retirement or aging.
This space is yours. It’s a chance for you to express what’s on your mind.
Beth had a rant this week about retirement savings.
“People tell you to save, they tell you how to save, they even help with how to invest,” Beth wrote. “But when you are ready to live off of this money there is no guidance.”
Beth had some questions
— How much each year can we live on — 4 percent?
— What percentage of that withdrawal will be subject to tax — 100 percent?
— Should we keep a small mortgage so we can write off some of this tax or is it better to pay off the mortgage and just pay the tax?
Here’s some reading to help Beth and you if you have similar questions
Your sharing might help others. So send your comments to email@example.com. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Retirement Rants and Raves.”
More on Equifax
Newsletter comments policy
Please note it is my personal policy to identify readers who respond to questions I ask in my newsletters. I find it encourages thoughtful and civil conversation. I want my newsletters to be a safe place to express your opinion. On sensitive matters or upon request, I’m happy to include just your first name and/or last initial. But I prefer not to post anonymous comments (I do make exceptions when I’m asking questions that might reveal sensitive information or cause conflict.)
Have a question about your finances? Michelle Singletary has a weekly live chat every Thursday at noon where she discusses financial dilemmas with readers. You can also write to Michelle directly by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read more Color of Money columns, go here.
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