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Recipients of Social Security benefits are at risk from scammers who attempt to redirect electronic payments to accounts they control. An estimated $28 million was stolen this way between October 2011 and June 2013.

The thieves proceed by obtaining a recipient’s Social Security number and other personal information, sometimes by posing as a telemarketer or a representative of the Social Security Administration. With a Social Security number and bank account information, the scammer can contact Social Security or the bank pretending to be the recipient and redirect payments to another bank account. Some thieves have also hacked into online Social Security accounts and changed the bank account for direct deposits.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Aging recently convened a panel of victims and advocates to address the problem and seek solutions. One woman testified that three months of Social Security electronic benefits were stolen from her and redirected to another bank account. She spent 50 days appealing to her bank, government officials and Senator Bill Nelson, the committee chair, before having her benefits reinstated. Another woman had six months of Social Security disability benefits stolen from a debit card. When the Direct Express debit card company would not reimburse her, she could not pay her rent and was evicted.

To prevent theft of Social Security electronic benefits, remember to never give personal information such as your Social Security number or bank account information to any unknown person. Suspicious activity may be reported to the Social Security Fraud Hotline at 1-800-269-0271 or http://oig.ssa.gov/report-fraud-waste-or-abuse.