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More than $33 million in Social Security benefits stolen over 5-year span

Social Security benefits a favored target for identity theft
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Posted at 12:09 PM, May 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-20 18:11:13-04

TAMPA, Fla.  — A Tampa woman called Taking Action Reporter Jackie Callaway after crooks diverted her Social Security check to another account.

Social Security benefits have long been a favorite target of identity thieves. Social Security's Office of Inspector General estimates that $33.5 million in benefit payments for 20,878 beneficiaries was stolen between January 2013 and May 2018 due to thieves diverting that money to other accounts.

Susan Jones, a retiree, joined the list of recent victims. Much like 40% of American seniors, she lives off her monthly payment from Social Security.

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Jones still doesn't know how her identity was stolen.

The money always arrived like clockwork until March 3, Jones said. That was the day she said she "woke up, checked my bank account and there was no deposit."

Jones kept checking the account over the next several hours, but the deposit didn't appear. When she contacted Social Security's fraud office, she learned that someone pretending to be her convinced Social Security to divert her $1,200 to a Visa card.

Kevin Huse, the Head of Investigations of the Social Security's Office of Inspector General, said the con is complex, which makes it difficult for investigators to get benefits back once they're deposited in another account.

"The scammers are very sophisticated," he said. "They use complex networks to move the money around quickly once they receive it."

In Jones' case, she said the local Social Security office told her the money was gone for good leaving her no way to pay her March rent. After countless calls to Social Security and other government agencies, she made a "Call for Action."

ABC Action News stepped in, and within days Jones said the money was returned to her account.

"If it hadn't been for you, I think I would still be waiting," she said.

The Social Security Administration said the best way to protect yourself against the theft of current or future benefits is to create a Social Security account online. You can do that by going to www.ssa.gov.