ID thieves want your online Social Security account - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

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ID thieves want your online Social Security account

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SCOTTSDALE, AZ (CBS5) -

A Scottsdale man says he was the victim of a scheme targeting seniors on social security. All seniors should beware of a new crop of crooks trying to steal their checks or their information to get a job.

A lot of retired seniors deal with the Social Security Administration through phone and regular mail. They never establish online account access to view their info, and that's exactly what these crooks are counting on.

"I've been getting my check every month fine," Lonnie Cozad said.

Retired three years, Cozad communicates with the Social Security Administration (SSA) strictly by mail. Recently he received this letter from the SSA confirming that he had just established online access to his account. He says he never did that and immediately thought the worst.

"Someone was trying to use my ID to obtain a job or get my Social Security check transferred into their bank," Cozad said.

Cozad reported the fraud to his local Social Security office in Mesa. He says they told him the email used to establish the account was lonniecozad@aol.com.

"When I did get home, I called AOL, and they said that was an invalid email address," Cozad said.

For someone receiving benefits like Cozad, online access allows them to start or change direct deposit. That means if an ID thief is able to establish online access to an account, they could reroute that person's check to a different bank account. The SSA website provides a link to report this type of fraud.

"So I asked them if they would track this guy, and they said they had no way of tracking him," Cozad said.

Cozad says the Social Security office told him it's seeing this problem more and more.

"They said they had three other people the previous week come into the office with practically the same situation that I was in," Cozad said.

To avoid this problem, go ahead and establish online access yourself or, if you don't use computers, call the Social Security Administration and ask them to block online access for your Social Security number.

Also, make sure to review your yearly Social Security Statement to verify your earnings are accurate. SSA used to automatically mail you that statement every year around your birthday, now you can either get in online at www.socialsecurity.gov after you establish your account, or call SSA and ask them to send it to you. If there are extra earnings on the report, someone may have used your Social Security number to get a job. If so, notify SSA right away.

If you are a victim like Cozad, immediately activate a fraud alert with the credit bureaus and check your credit reports for any suspicious activity.

Establishing an online account with the Social Security Administration can be a valuable resource. For those receiving Social Security benefits, it will allow them to download and print a benefit verification letter, check their payment amounts and make changes to their record. For individuals not receiving Social Security it will provide them estimates of their retirement, disability and survivors benefits, their earnings record and allow them to download and print a Social Security statement.  Establishing an online account is the quickest way to review your yearly earnings statement.

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