Ron Finke: Steer clear of clever scammers
This is unlike any other year in our lives. Even our local weather is now unusual, even though in a nice way – a truly cooler August. One thing has not changed though. Many people are trying to steal from you. Modern thieves are using a combination of mail, electronics, telephone and other media.
It has been some time since we wrote a column about this subject. But recently I received my own example of it. Earlier this spring, I signed up for a Social Security benefit available to couples born before Jan. 1, 1954. I received a favorable determination in June and all seemed to be well.
However, a few days ago, I received another letter supposedly from the downtown Kansas City Social Security Administration office on 12th Street, the Federal building. That address is correct, and it certainly appeared to be legitimate. However, it requested that I send a photo of my driver’s license, another state-issued identification card, or a copy of my official passport.
There is no reason given for this request except this: The sooner we receive the item(s), the sooner we can decide if you are eligible. Eligible for what? It does not indicate. Since I have already been approved and am receiving a small monthly benefit on my wife’s account, this certainly seems strange.
The letter itself uses the same format and type font the administration uses. It even tells me to visit the official Social Security website or to call the phone number of the inspector general to report suspected fraud! It obviously must be a really good fake in order to be an effective counterfeit communication.
What else could be the tip-off? First, several years ago when I became 65, I established a secure web account to communicate to and from the administration. You should have one if you do not. It has a dual security component and requires a code to be sent to my phone before even I can enter the site. Its message center details official communications I have received since turning age 65. There is no mention of any further requirements such as providing proof of my identity in my Social Security inbox.
Furthermore, the letter tells me that I can contact Social Security by visiting www.socialsecurity.gov. That is not the administration’s official website. The correct one is www.ssa.gov.
Obviously these differences are small and could be easily overlooked. The world should not work this way, but it does. You must be vigilant and skeptical of almost everything. If you are elderly and the most at risk, ask your children, financial adviser or a trusted friend to review any requests for information like this one I received. You cannot be too careful!
(Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Advice is general in nature and not intended for specific situations)
Ron Finke is president of Stewardship Capital in Independence. He is a registered investment adviser. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.