The aftermath of the massive Equifax data breach affecting tens of millions of Americans will be reverberating in U.S. households for months to come. Many people are rushing to put a freeze on their credit accounts in order to protect their identity. But there’s something else you need to do immediately if you want to protect yourself against Social Security fraud.
Whether you’re already drawing benefits or not, this extremely important article that just appeared in the Washington Post is a must-read for every member of your family. It was written by nationally known financial expert Michelle Singletary, who writes, “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.” Singletary says you need to do this now, if you haven’t already, “before someone uses your stolen information to hijack this extremely important portal for your Social Security benefits.”
Why is this so critical? It’s because, says one Social Security official quoted by Singletary, “A ‘my Social Security’ account is your gateway to many of (Social Security’s) online services.” This official said that by creating your own account you “take away the risk of someone else trying to create one in your name, even if they obtain your Social Security number.” Without your own account, your benefits could be in jeopardy. Michelle Singletary quotes another financial writer, this one from the financial website Motley Fool, who explains how this fraud could work. “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.” Undoing that mess could be a time-consuming, stress-inducing ordeal.
With your own ‘my Social Security account,’ which has several security controls built in, you can go online, set up your account, and then file for benefits when the time comes. However, Singletary reminds us in the Washington Post article that the credit freeze many people are placing on their credit bureau accounts in the Equifax aftermath could impede the process of filing for your benefits. “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,” Singletary reports. “Social Security uses information in your file to verify your identity.” But, she adds, “You can (always) open an account in person by going to a local Social Security office.”
Recently one of our colleagues logged onto his ‘my Social Security’ account for the first time in several months and noted a few changes. For one thing his password had expired so he was required to reset it. He also had the option of resetting his three security questions. And there was another newer feature (at least since the last time this man logged on): the website sent an access code to his cell phone which had to be entered in order to complete the login process (receiving the code by email was also an option).
As for the Equifax breach, in which financial data impacting more than 140 million Americans was compromised, many experts are advising people to freeze their credit reports to prevent unauthorized access. This can be done online or by phone. We suggest you visit any of the websites of the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) and search for each agency’s procedures for freezing your credit report. If you need help securing your accounts and your personal information, a trusted friend or family member is a good resource, or you might consider turning to a reputable, reliable financial advisor. Contact us here at AgingOptions and let refer you to a financial planning professional selected from our network of trusted providers.
When it comes to planning for retirement, we can most assuredly help you gain an awareness of the principles that will ensure a brighter and more secure future as you age. This type of planning goes far beyond finances! You also need to have someone guide you through the maze of medical decisions (both short term and long term) and the significance of appropriate housing choices. There are legal preparations to consider in order to make certain that you and your estate are adequately protected. Finally, you’ll want to plan a family conference so those closest to you will understand and support your wishes. Is it possible to protect your assets in retirement and avoid becoming a burden to your family? Can you live how and where you want without being forced against your will into a nursing home? The answer is yes – if you have prepared an AgingOptions LifePlan.
There’s an easy, no-obligation way to learn more about the power of a LifePlan. Plan now to attend a free LifePlanning Seminar, held frequently at locations throughout the region. Bring all your questions and come to a seminar near you. Simply click here for details and online registration, or contact us during the week. Whatever your circumstances, we can help you face the future with confidence. All it takes is a LifePlan from AgingOptions.
(originally reported at www.washingtonpost.com)