(CBS) — Retirees with pensions depend on their check arriving on time each month. Now, internet hackers are diverting millions of dollars from both social security and companies distributing pension checks.
It could happen to you, CBS 2’s Pam Zekman reports.
“They’re robbing me,” Eileen Scramuzzo says. “I am being robbed of the money my husband has earned.”
She had received $800 a month of her deceased husband’s pension until last February.
“Someone had called, said they were from the Social Security office and he was questioning her about her Social Security number and the amount of money that she gets,” Scramuzzo’s granddaughter, Kathy Mignogna, says.
Then, Scramuzzo got a letter saying an online account with her Social Security number was opened in her name.
“I believe they were going to try to deplete her Social Security income, but she’s not getting Social Security, and somehow they were able to figure that out as well and tap into the money she was getting,” Mignogna says.
The scammers got enough information to have her pension account at Fidelity redirected so that four of her pension checks from her Chicago bank ended up in a Green Dot account in California. She lost a total of $3,200.
Scramuzzo lives on a fixed income and relies on the pension checks to survive.
“I have a home to keep,” Scramuzzo says. “And I’m in desperate need of my money or I can find myself losing my home.”
One watchdog organization says banks should do a better job of making sure scenarios like this do not happen.
“It seems outrageous that financial institutions wouldn’t have layers of protection in place to prevent this kind of fraud and abuse. We hope that airing this story will alert financial institutions and pension funds about the possibility of this kind of fraud,” says Karen Friedman of the Pension Rights Organization.
How big of a problem is this? Pension fund industry sources say Social Security benefits lost in similar scams indicate it’s a huge problem.
The Social Security Administration’s inspector general says that since 2013 more than 63,000 beneficiaries filed fraud complaints, and millions of dollars had to be reissued.
It took four months for Fidelity to fix Scramuzzo’s problem and restore her monthly check.
“The second that the financial institution had heard from the woman that there was this kind of abuse there should have been an immediate investigation, and no, it should not have taken four months,” Friedman says.
Worse yet, Scramuzzo says Fidelity Investments couldn’t say when the missing $3,200 would be paid.
“I’m so distressed,” she says. “I don’t know how to handle it anymore. I need help.”
After the 2 Investigators contacted Fidelity, she received her money, Scramuzzo says.
A Fidelity spokesperson says the protection of customers accounts and information remains a top priority.
“We regret that Ms. Scramuzzo has had to manage through a difficult period,” the spokesperson said in a written statement. “Situations such as this are highly uncommon at Fidelity. We will continue to make sure she gets all of the pension payments she deserves.”
For assistance with pension problems, you can contact the Illinois Pension Assistance Project at 888-425-6067.