SSA Putting Millions of Americans at Risk

By: Elizabeth Harrington
The Washington Free Beacon

The Social Security Administration puts millions of Americans at risk for identity theft by putting their full Social Security Numbers on letters sent in the mail.

The agency’s inspector general released an audit this week warning the government that by sending hundreds of millions of letters containing individual’s Social Security Numbers it puts them at risk for identity theft.

“According to [the Social Security Administration] SSA, in 2015, it mailed about 233 million notices that included individuals’ full SSN,” the inspector general said. “We recognize SSA’s efforts can never eliminate the potential that dishonest individuals may inappropriately acquire and misuse SSNs. However, our audit and investigative work have shown that the more SSNs are unnecessarily used, the higher the probability that they could be used inappropriately.”

“The security of beneficiaries’ [Personally Identifiable Information] PII should be foremost, and as a Federal agency and public servant, we believe SSA should be in the forefront of establishing policy and practice by limiting SSN use and disclosure,” the audit said.

Sixty-six percent of the 352 million notices the agency sent out last year contained Americans’ full Social Security Numbers, and the government said it has no idea how many never made it to the correct address.“While it is unknown how many of the intended addressees received these notices, our audit work has shown that the addresses in SSA’s records can be inaccurate,” the inspector general said
“We asked SSA whether it maintained any estimates on the number of mailings that were returned as undeliverable. SSA stated that it did not have any Agency-level number on undeliverable mail,” they said. “SSA could not provide us an estimate of the number of notices with SSNs it mails annually that do not reach the intended recipients and are not returned to SSA.”

The inspector general warned that notices sent to the wrong address can increase identify theft, as it can give strangers access to vital personal information. “Notices intercepted by unintended recipients could provide SSA beneficiaries’ names, addresses, and SSNs to individuals other than the numberholders,” they said.

Auditors said they do not currently have documented proof of identity theft that has occurred as a result of agency letters going to the wrong address, though the agency acknowledged “there is a risk of identity theft anytime it sends correspondence that contains PII.”

The inspector general said identity theft is “one of the fastest-growing crimes” in the country.”

“With a stolen SSN, identity thieves can commit any number of financial crimes in the victim’s name or steal money from the victim,” the audit said. “If the victim is a senior citizen, the thief could even target their Social Security benefits.”

“SSA acknowledges that identity thieves may obtain another’s personal information by stealing their mail or rummaging through their trash,” the inspector general concluded. “It is, therefore, troubling that SSA continues including the full SSN on the majority of its mailings.”

How To Avoid Identity Theft.

By Stewart Welch
on August 03, 2016 at 4:21 PM, updated August 03, 2016 at 4:33 PM
New Stewart Welch.jpgStewart Welch Founder of The Welch Group, which specializes in fee-only investment advice to families throughout the country. Contact welchgroup.com

AL.com recently reported on the arrest of a two-man Detroit theft ring who were in possession of 177 stolen identities.  Identity theft continues to be a growing multi-billion-dollar problem. I feel like the wildebeest crossing the crocodile infested Mara River.  I’m only protected by the law of large numbers.  What are your best moves to protect yourself from identity theft?  First, understand that attacks come from primarily two fronts:

Unauthorized charges against your existing bank or credit accounts.  I’ve personally had my credit card stolen on a Saturday night and by the time I discovered it on Sunday, there were over $1,000 of unauthorized charges.  I’ve also had my information used to make internet charges for several thousand dollars.  In both cases the credit card company did not hold me responsible.  Your best defense is to closely monitor all of your banking and credit card accounts.  For my credit cards I set up text alerts anytime a charge of over $25 is made.  For bank accounts I log in every couple of days and scan recent activity.  Easy, quick, effective.

Tip:  Fraudulent credit card charges are typically easy to handle with little or no losses to you.  Debit cards are an entirely different story.  If a thief uses your debit card information to purchase something or access your ATM, that money is gone from your checking account and won’t be restored until your bank goes through an investigative process.  This can take weeks and you’ll be out the money until it’s resolved.  If you have and use a debit card, guard it and your information very closely and I recommend monitoring your account activity on a daily basis.  If there is a problem, you’ll want to catch it early.

Use your information to open new credit in your name.  While this has never happened to me, it can be devastating to your personal finances.  If this happens the burden shifts to you to prove you didn’t open the account.  Your first line of defense should be to order your credit reports from each of Experian.com,Transunion.com and Equifax.com.   Look for any unfamiliar accounts.  These reports are free once every twelve months so a good idea is to order from one of the services every four months.  You may also want to consider hiring a monitoring service which will alert you immediately if new credit is requested in your name.  Each of these credit bureaus offer a monitoring service as do independent companies such as LifeLock.com.  Fees range from around $15 to $30 per month.  For quick access to your free annual credit reports, visitAnnualCreditReport.com.

Tip: If someone has stolen your credit information or you suspect you are vulnerable to theft, you can place a fraud alert or credit freeze on your account. Fraud alerts are good for ninety days and then are automatically removed unless you re-establish them.  This alerts any company seeking your credit file that you may be a victim of fraud and they should take extra precautions to verify that new or additional credit requests are valid.  A credit freeze is designed to prevent your credit file from being released without your expressed permission.  Credit freezes are ‘good until cancelled’ and you have the option to ‘temporarily’ remove the freeze if, for example, you are applying for a loan or additional credit.  If you have been a victim of credit fraud, there is generally no charge for these services; otherwise a small charge may apply.

For more tips on avoiding identity theft visit www.usa.gov/identity-theft.