US Embassies Cyprus & Greece: Federal Benefits Recipients at Risk of Identity Theft

You’ve heard about the financial crisis roiling the tiny Mediterranean island of Cyprus.  The €10 billion bailout announced recently is not going to be the end of it.  According to The Telegraph, Cyprus central bank official Yiangos Dimitriou has confirmed that the cashing of cheques will be banned as part of the introduction of capital controls. Dimitriou also announced that bank withdrawals will be limited to €300 a day.  Reuters reported that people leaving Cyprus may take only €1,000 with them. Apparently, there are also notices at the airport warning travelers of the new restrictions and that officers had orders to confiscate cash above the €1,000 euro limit.

Given that the 2010 OIG report of US Embassy Nicosia made no mention of American Citizen Services, we presume that there are not too many American residents in the island.  American retirees have flocked to Greece and their number in Cyprus is significantly lower than the UK pensioners, of which there are reportedly about 18,000 in the island. We understand that the Athens consular district is home to approximately 110,000 American citizens and there is a federal benefits attaché at the US Embassy in Greece who reports to the consul general.

Still, there potentially are enough Americans residing and banking in Cyprus which prompted the Federal Benefits Unit at the US Embassy in Athens to released the following statement:

We have arranged the following contingencies for customers who receive their federal benefits through Cyprus banks. Under any of these options, direct deposit changes usually occur 2 months after the month we receive the request, so do not close your old account until you receive the first payment in your new account.

Send an email to FBU.Athens@ssa.gov to change how you receive direct deposits.

Use a Subject Line in this format: SUBJECT: CYPRUS

– Your name and last 4 digits of your social security number

In the message, provide the following:

1. Last name and first name

2. Street Address

3. Phone Number

4. Social Security Number (9 Digits), and

5.  Direct deposit information, depending the option you request.

Options include designating a bank in the United States to receive direct deposits, designating a bank in the Greece to receive direct deposits (though the account must be in euros), and requesting a Chase Direct Benefit Card from JP Morgan Chase Bank

Read in full here.

Similarly, the contact info for the Federal Benefits Unit in Nicosia requires beneficiaries to provide their SSN via email to consularnicosia@state.gov .

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The intentions to help as expeditiously as possible is commendable but did anyone stop and pause how this might put retirees and recipients at risk of identify thief?

Did anyone stop and think how Social Security information is an identity thief’s dream?

With your Social Security number in hand, an opportunistic hacker or other online criminal can do just about anything — create phony bank accounts using your name; charge unlimited amounts of goods and services to credit accounts you never meant to open; steal your identity and recreate it multiple times and in multiple locations.

What security provisions are there to minimized potential misused of SSN transmitted via unencrypted email?

Where is the disclosure statement required under the Privacy Act?

The Privacy Act states that you cannot be denied a government benefit or service if you refuse to disclose your SSN unless the disclosure is required by federal law, or the disclosure is to an agency that has been using SSNs before January 1975, when the Privacy Act went into effect. There are other exceptions as well. Read the Code of Federal Regulations section here: http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/cfr_2008/julqtr/28cfr16.53.htm.

If you are asked to give your SSN to a government agency and no disclosure statement is included on the form, you should complain to the agency and cite the Privacy Act of 1974. You can also contact your Congressional representative and U.S. Senators with your complaint. Unfortunately, there appear to be no penalties when a government agency fails to provide a disclosure statement.

Asking the federal benefits beneficiaries to send their social security numbers via email is like asking them to write it on a postcard.  C’mon folks,  would you write and mail yours on a postcard? No? Well then ….

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2 responses

  1. Excellent Post!! It seems to me that using the bank card would at least provide security.

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