How setting up an online Social Security account fights ID theft

Earlier this year, the Social Security Administration announced it found a way to save $11 million annually: by mailing fewer Social Security statements. It will now mail paper benefit statements only to people who are 60 or older and who haven't created a my Social Security account online and aren't yet receiving Social Security benefits.

So if you're under age 60 and you'd like to get an estimate of your future Social Security benefits, you'll have to create an online account online at my Social Security. It's not really difficult, and by doing so you'll be protecting yourself in several ways.

When you create an account, expect to navigate a new required security process. You'll need to obtain a code for one-time use that's a second method of verifying your identity. You have to supply either an email address or a cell phone number to receive the verification code. Once you get it, you enter it at my Social Security to sign into your account.

You'll also need to verify your personal information (name, date of birth, Social Security number and address) and your information that's in credit bureau files (such as the town where you resided in the past, year of recently registered vehicle, etc.).  

Everyone who pays into Social Security should establish an account. Doing so prevents identity thieves from setting up an unauthorized account using your Social Security number because only one account per Social Security number is allowed.

Once you set up your account, here are some things you can do with it: 

  • Access, save and print your personalized Social Security statement anytime.
  • Review estimates of the retirement benefits you would get at various retirement ages.
  • See the total amount of Social Security and Medicare taxes you and your employers have paid over your entire working lifetime.
  • Get a benefit verification letter.
  • Check your benefit and payment information, and your earnings record.
  • Change your address and phone number.
  • Start or change direct deposit of your benefit payment.

Carefully review your record of annual earnings. Some workers have found that earnings from certain employers or entire years are missing and therefore not counted in calculating your Social Security credited earnings. That could reduce the amount of benefits you're entitled to receive. It's estimated that there's a 3 percent error rate for earnings information on these statements.

Search the site's FAQs for "Correcting Errors on My Earnings Record" for the steps to take to report missing earnings.

  • Ray Martin

    View all articles by Ray Martin on CBS MoneyWatch»
    Ray Martin has been a practicing financial advisor since 1986, providing financial guidance and advice to individuals. He has appeared regularly as a contributor on the CBS Early Show, CBS NewsPath, as a columnist on CBS Moneywatch.com and on NBC-TV's morning newscast TODAY. He has also appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and is the author of two books.