The Equifax data breach was initially announced in September 2017, with an estimated 143 million Americans affected. In early March of 2018 it was announced that an additional 2.4 million consumers were affected as well. [i] While many more consumers are more aware of the cybersecurity risks they face, there is one area of vulnerability they may not be monitoring – their Social Security account.
Social Security Annual Statement
Each year, Social Security produces an annual statement, which shows your earnings records, and estimates for retirement, disability and survivors benefits you and your family may be eligible for. Until 2011, this was a paper copy that was mailed to your home. As a cost cutting measure, the Social Security Administration has switched over to an online account called My Social Security. Paper statements are now only mailed to individuals over 60 who are not claiming benefits yet, and who have not opened a My Social Security account.[ii]
My Social Security
Much like your credit report, it’s important to check your social security statement every year. Not only should you use your projected benefit amounts in your financial planning, but be sure to check the accuracy of your reported earnings. If your earnings are underreported, your benefits will be miscalculated a lower rate.
Haven’t claimed your My Social Security account yet? You should make it a priority. While the Social Security Administration takes great care to keep your data safe, the kind of data leaked in a breach like Equifax can make it possible for another person to log in while impersonating you and “claim” your account.
You can open your account, or log in to an existing account and check your security settings here: https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/
Know Your Options
Aside from security concerns, you should also know that Social Security Administration does not always inform you of the best options when it’s time to file a claim. It was recently discovered that the SSA underpaid almost 14,000 widows and widowers who were dually entitled to a higher claim. The total amount of the underpayment is estimated to be $131 million. [iii]
It’s important to review your options with your financial advisor before you file. Your Social Security benefits are an integral part of your financial plan, and should be treated with the same diligence and care as the other sources of your retirement income.