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What Happens If Someone Steals My Social Security Benefits?

Maurie Backman, The Motley Fool

Social Security fraud has been a glaring problem for a long time, but last year's major Equifax breach did a fine job of taking things up a notch. In 2017, an estimated 143 million Americans had their data compromised, including their Social Security numbers, which means that the likelihood of falling victim to fraud is all the more great.

If you have reason to believe your Social Security benefits have been stolen, you'll need to take action right away. Otherwise, you risk losing out on money that's rightfully yours.

Keeping tabs on your benefits

Back in the day, it was easier to know if your Social Security payments were stolen because benefits were sent in a physical check. These days, however, those payments are generally made by direct deposit, so unless you're manning your bank account, you may not know whether yours have gone missing.

Social Security card

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

The best way to ensure that you're not missing any of your benefits is to figure out your payment schedule and make a point of checking your account each time you expect that money to hit it. Social Security payments are sent out on the second, third, and fourth Wednesday of each month depending on your date of birth. If your birthday falls between the first and 10th day of the month, you can expect your payment on the second Wednesday of the month. If it's between the 11th and 20th, you'll get paid on the third Wednesday of the month. And if your birthday is between the 21st and 31st, your money will come in on the fourth Wednesday of the month. You can consult this payment schedule for more information.

Of course, it's easier to determine when your benefits have been stolen once you're already receiving them. But what if you've yet to file a benefits claim? In that case, someone could, conceivably, file for Social Security in your name, divert your payments to an account he or she can control, and then collect those payments while you're none the wiser. So if you're at an age when you're eligible for benefits (meaning 62 or above) but haven't yet filed, create a Social Security account online and monitor it for activity. If you see activity you didn't initiate, contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) at once by calling (800) 772-1213.

In the meantime, be sure to hang on to all documentation you receive from the SSA. Unfortunately, if someone does try to steal your identity -- and your benefits -- it'll be on you to prove that you're the rightful owner, so the more official paperwork you have, the stronger a case you'll build.

If the world were a more honest place, we wouldn't have to worry about criminals who attempt to access money they're not entitled to. But alas, that's not the case, and so it's on us to be vigilant about protecting ourselves. The moment you find that a Social Security payment of yours is missing, or that there's new activity on your account that didn't come from you, be sure to take action right away. The longer you wait, the longer you risk going without money you could end up coming to miss.

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