In case you didn’t already know, this is National Consumer Protection Week. Keeping with that theme, it’s a good time to think about how to protect your identity and your future retirement benefits.
Potential fraud seems to be everywhere. Last week, I received a succession of phone messages from someone purporting to be an “Apple support advisor.” The caller instructed me to call back on 208-262-0000, which is somewhere in Idaho and nowhere near Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California. Instead of returning this suspicious call, I went to Google and found the real Apple support number (1-800-692-7753) and I called to learn more. I was told that these are phishing calls related to a gift card scheme designed to separate you from your money. As most of you already know: Do not answer or return such calls.
While it’s hard to prevent such scammers from trying to contact you, there are things you should know about protecting your retirement benefits and savings, Medicare and Social Security benefits. Here’s a primer:
Office of Personnel Management
Approximately 4.2 million individuals were impacted by the cyber breach involving personnel records announced in 2015. Most of those people were also impacted by the cyber incident involving background investigation records; approximately 600,000 individuals were impacted only by the cyber incident involving personnel records. Although your paper retirement records are kept safe in one of the most secure places in the country, cyber security is critical. To learn more about what the agency is doing to protect your data, visit OPM’s Cybersecurity Resource Center. OPM has provided a list of ways to protect yourself from identity theft, phishing scams, and exploitation. It is important to have your password if you use OPM’s Services Online. If you are receiving regular payments and you have not received your temporary numeric password, you need to contact OPM for help. If you need to reset your complex password, select the “Forgot Password” link on the main Services Online page. This password reset tool requires that you have an email address on file and have already established your security questions. Do not request a new Password if:
- You have already requested a password by mail within the last 7 days or, for requests by email, if you have requested a password by mail within the last 4 days;
- You have called the Retirement Operations Center and requested a new password;
- You have already requested a password by email within the last 24 hours.
By requesting a new password in any of the above instances, you will further delay your access to Services Online.
Thrift Savings Plan
Protecting your TSP account is the top priority of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, but it’s a responsibility you share as a TSP participant. There are steps you can take to protect your data when you’re online. If you’re concerned that your personal information or TSP account has been compromised, contact the TSP immediately. Learn more about how the TSP protects your security by visiting the TSP Security Center.
Social Security Administration
Government imposter scams were the number one fraud reported to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network in 2019, with Social Security imposters leading the pack. There were 166,190 reports about Social Security scams, with people reporting individual losses of about $1,500. If you haven’t received one of these calls yet, here’s what these scams sound like. Someone pretends to be a caller from Social Security. Caller ID may even display a Social Security office number. Sometimes the caller says your Social Security number has been suspended and you need to pay a fee to reactivate it. The caller may even say your Social Security number has been linked with a crime, and you need to take immediate steps to avoid being arrested or to protect the money in your bank account. Either way, when the person asks, do not provide your Social Security number. How can you protect yourself from Social Security fraud? According to the Social Security Administration, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Your Social Security number is not about to be suspended. You don’t have to verify your number to anyone who calls you out of the blue.
- Social Security will never tell you to put money on gift cards, wire money, or send cash. Anyone who tells you to do those things is a scammer.
- Don’t trust caller ID. Scammers can make it look like they’re calling from anywhere – even a real Social Security phone number.
If you get one of these calls, hang up! Do not provide any personal information or comply with any request for payment.
If you already received one of these calls, please report it to the FTC. If it’s a Social Security imposter, please also report it to the Social Security’s Office of Inspector General. If you gave your Social Security number to a scammer and are worried about identity theft, visit our Social Security Identity Theft website for what steps you can take toward recovery.
There are a number of things you should do to protect your information here:
You can learn more about how to protect yourself on the internet, how to recognize scams that attempt to steal your information, and more about online security from the Federal Trade Commission. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is the Nation’s risk advisor, and they work with partners to defend against today’s threats. CISA provides information to protect yourself against ransomware which is a type of malware threat actors use to infect computers and encrypt computer files until a ransom is paid. (See Protecting Against Malicious Code for more information on malware.)