Recently my friend Ken sent me a link to a Washington Post article about protecting your Social Security number.
The article was in response to the breach at Equifax—one of the top three credit reporting agencies—that had exposed the personal information of 145.5 million people earlier this year.
On Oct. 12 the company said it had disabled one of its customer help online pages and is investigating another possible cyber breach.
Here are the facts, according to Equifax. The breach lasted from mid-May through July. The hackers accessed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. They also stole credit card numbers of about 209,000 people and dispute documents with personal identifying information of about 182,000 people.
The Federal Trade Commission offered steps to help protect your information from being misused. In broad strokes, it recommended checking your credit reports for evidence of unknown activity, placing a credit freeze or fraud alert on your credit files, monitoring your credit card and bank statements closely, and filing your taxes early.
However, if you expect to get a Social Security check or are already receiving the benefit, someone who has your personal information, such as from the Equifax breach, could file for benefits as you and direct those benefits to a new address. If you aren’t already receiving benefits, someone could collect them for years without your knowing and you would be ineligible when you decide to file because someone has already been receiving them.
Thus, according to the Washington Post article, there is something else you may want to do.
The U.S. government offers a portal to communicate safely with Social Security. It is called My Social Security Account, and you can access it at www.ssa.gov/myaccount. Opening a My Social Security Account can take away the risk of someone else trying to create one in your name, even if they obtain your Social Security number.
At age 59, I am not yet eligible for Social Security, yet I took the opportunity to create an account to add an extra level of protection to guard against a breach.
I do have to admit I was a bit nervous providing all my information to the site, but I took comfort in the fact that the lock image denoting a secure site was in the address bar and the site was a Social Security.gov domain.
I can review my statements, see estimates of my future retirement, disability and survivors benefits; verify that the amounts on my earnings that are posted are correct; and review the estimated Social Security and Medicare taxes I have paid.
I feel better knowing that I am ahead of possible Social Security theft by creating a My Social Security Account. Now all I need to do is remember my log-in and password.