Contributed by Officer Haskins

Dear Seniors,

I hope everyone enjoyed the holidays. As we enter the new year, I want to continue to share helpful information to keep you safe. I found an article published by CNN regarding the latest Social Security scam and wanted to make you aware.

In a new scam targeting seniors and the disabled, identity thieves are fraudulently rerouting Social Security benefits to their own bank accounts and prepaid debit cards.

It's pretty straightforward: Identity thieves get their hands on the personal information they need, like a full name and bank account number. Then they contact the Social Security Administration and request that payments be rerouted to their own accounts.

This scam is emerging at the same time the Social Security Administration is actively encouraging all beneficiaries to switch to direct deposit to meet a new regulation requiring the agency to stop sending paper checks, Patrick O'Carroll, Inspector General of the Social Security Administration, said in a Congressional hearing last week.

Some seniors see their payments get rerouted to prepaid cards after falling prey to lottery scams that ask victims for their personal information and bank account details in order to claim big prizes, said O'Carroll. Prepaid cards are especially attractive to identity thieves because they aren't linked to bank accounts and can often be used anonymously, making them difficult to trace.

As of Aug. 31. the inspector general's office received more than 19,000 reports of "questionable" changes or attempted changes to a beneficiary's direct deposit information, and continues to receive about 50 reports like this every day.

To protect your identity, be wary of any calls or emails from people asking for personal information. You can also tell the agency that no changes may be made to your account unless you appear in person with sufficient ID by visiting www.socialsecurity.gov/blockaccess.

If it's been three or four days since you were supposed to receive your benefits payment or you receive a letter confirming a change to your direct deposit information that you didn't authorize, take action immediately.

The Social Security Administration said anyone who believes they are victims of fraud should contact the inspector general at oig.ssa.gov/report-fraud-waste-or-abuse.