As Maria Elena Ruiz was getting ready to pay her father's medical bills for the month, she realized there was a big problem.
"There was no money!" she said.
Federico Ruiz's monthly Social Security check should have been deposited directly into his bank account. But it looks like a payday came for a crook instead.
"Somebody just went on the Internet, and it just got paid," Maria Elena Ruiz remarked.
With some key pieces of the senior citizen's personal information and a few clicks on ssa.gov, the thief was able to create an online account. It redirected Mr. Ruiz's benefits to a bank account controlled by the thief.
Maria Elena Ruiz, who is the sister of an NBC 6 employee, says a letter she received recently should have been a telltale sign. It read in part "you successfully created an online account with the Social Security Administration. You can log in at anytime."
Her father, who suffers from dementia and Alzheimer's, could have never created that online account. Though his benefits are missing in action, his bills are not.
"He requires 24-hour, around-the-clock care," said Ruiz.
Last Friday, the Social Security Administration issued a fraud advisory, warning beneficiaries to protect their personal information.
According to the agency’s inspector general, there have been just over 600 such allegations made nationwide between February and April 29.
The SSA says it does not want to discourage beneficiaries from opening up an online account. That actually eliminates the risk that a thief will do so in your name.
And if you get a letter like the one Maria Elena Ruiz did, mind the last paragraph. It reads, "If you did not request an online account please contact us immediately."
People can also block unauthorized changes through the Social Security Administration's website and through the agency's automated telephone service by blocking electronic access at www.socialsecurity.gov
"Some other cases of attempted fraud with electronic payments, however, have occurred through an automated enrollment process with banks and financial institutions (after a person's personal information has been misused or stolen)," said Patti Patterson, the regional communications director for the Social Security Administration, in a statement.
"Social Security has implemented a process in 2012 that allows people to protect against fraudulent changes by blocking this auto-enrollment process," she added.
Ruiz is currently working to try to sort out the problem. Her father's doctor must fill out forms to prove he cannot handle this matter himself. What hurts her the most about the entire ordeal, she said, is that thieves don't realize they are hurting the people who need help most.
"My father worked a lot of years,” she said. “He deserves that every day he lives, will be the best we can give him.”
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