By Carrie Kerskie, Director of the Identity Fraud Institute at Hodges University
A few years ago, the Social Security Administration (SSA) launched a new program allowing anyone over the age of 18 to set up an online account called MySSA, My Social Security Account. The purpose was to allow consumers to apply for or manage their benefits online. Unfortunately, most consumers were unaware of this new feature; however, there was a group very aware of this new program – identity thieves.
Since the launch of the program, every case of social security fraud I have investigated was traced back to MySSA as the source. Your initial thought might be there was a data breach or the program was hacked. Nope. The problem was the victims did not set up their MySSA account, so an identity thief did it on his or her behalf. Once the account was established, the thief could change where the benefits were being directly deposited or could apply for benefits before the victim applied for them. The fact that consumers had not set up their online MySSA accounts caused them to become victims.
To prevent someone from setting up your MySSA account, you have two options:
- Set up your online account.
- Tell the SSA you want to opt-out of electronic access.
Set Up Your Online Account
Only one account is permitted per social security number. By setting up your MySSA account, you are preventing someone else from doing it on your behalf. To create your account, visit www.SSA.gov and click on the box, “my Social Security.” You will be required to enter your name, address, date of birth and social security number. Note: the site uses the latest security measures to protect your information. Next, you will answer a series of questions based on the data on your Equifax credit report. Questions asked could include how much is your mortgage payment, what is the address of the property where you have the mortgage, or how much is your car loan payment. A new feature is two-factor-authentication. You will need to provide a cell phone number. Anytime your account is logged into, you will receive a text message with an eight-digit code. You will enter this code along with your username and password to log in to your MySSA account.
If you have a credit freeze on your Equifax credit report, you may need to temporarily lift the freeze prior to setting up your MySSA account online. This is because the SSA uses the information on your Equifax credit report to attempt to authenticate your identity. If you have a credit freeze, the SSA might not be able to view the credit report and authenticate your identity.
Opting-Out of Electronic Access
For those who prefer to avoid online access, you have the option of opting-out of electronic access. This blocks you or a thief from setting up a MySSA account under your social security number. However, it is important to know that if you choose to opt-out of electronic access, you will no longer be able to use the automated telephone services. This means for any changes to your account, you will have to speak to a human either in-person or by telephone.
Employment Identity Theft Monitoring
You might be thinking a MySSA account is only for individuals receiving benefits; however, this is not true. By establishing your MySSA account, you will be able to view your reported-income-summary statement online. The IRS provides the reported income listed on the statement to the SSA. This could help you monitor for employment identity theft when someone uses your information for employment purposes. The employer is required to report the earned income to the IRS under your social security number. All income reported under your social security number is reflected in the earned-income-summary report. When you review your report, if the reported income listed is more than you reported on your tax return, it could be a red flag for employment identity theft. Right now, this is the only way to monitor for employment identity theft. Keep in mind, a discrepancy in reported income does not always mean employment identity theft. Reporting errors are have been known to occur. Simply report the discrepancy to the SSA, and they will verify the information with the IRS.
If you are looking for ways to reduce your risk of identity theft, establishing your MySSA account is one more layer of protection available. Best of all, it is free. Remember, this is available to anyone over the age of 18.
If you want to learn more about reducing your risk of identity theft, sign up for our October 24, 2017, workshop. Additional information is available at the following link https://www.hodges.edu/identity/events.aspx