GRANBURY (CBSDFW.COM) – It’s a new scam that could affect you or someone you know. Identity thieves have found a way to steal recipients’ monthly social security checks — even before they arrive in their accounts.

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Already, thousands of people nationwide and here in North Texas have been hurt by this.

Madison Bradley expected his normal monthly payment from social security last month. When it never arrived in his bank account, Bradley says, “I damn well near had a heart attack.” So the Granbury resident immediately contacted Social Security.

He says the agency told him that a month earlier someone else called pretending to be him and re-directed his monthly check to an account on a Green Dot prepaid Visa debit card. That debit card was then cashed at a store in Florida.

“I was so hot you could fry eggs on this old redneck hippy’s neck.” Bradley blames an identity thief, who obtained his social security number.

And he says no one from the agency ever bothered to call to verify the change to a different account. “I received no correspondence, no telephone calls.”

The Social Security Administration‘s Office of the Inspector General says it has received more than 19,000 complaints nationwide of questionable changes made to a recipient’s direct deposit accounts.

Nearly ten percent of them came from the Dallas field division, which includes all of Texas and four other states.

When asked why Social Security allows people to make changes to their accounts without appearing in person, bradley says, “That’s what I want to know. How did they not have safeguards?” Lawmakers wanted to know too.

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The problem is so serious, Congress recently held a hearing about it. And lawmakers were told the agency doesn’t do enough to keep thieves from changing a recipients’ direct deposit account.

The Social Security Administration’s Inspector General, Patrick O’Carroll told the hearing, “It’s a systemic problem at the top that needs to be corrected. We cannot do it from the bottom and make arrests as a deterrant.”

Social Security eventually sent Bradley another payment for last month.

CBS 11 wanted to find out how often Social Security reissued payments and how much that cost taxpayers. The government is conducting an audit to figure that out.

Green Dot, which sells the pre-paid debit card involved in Bradley’s case, says it uses stringent identity verification technology.

In a statement, it said, “In spite of these efforts, we are aware that identity thieves are constantly becoming more sophisticated .. to obtain the information used to defraud individuals…”

Bradley has since filed a report with the Granbury Police Department, but not before some sleepless nights. “I’ve had to borrow money to pay my rent to keep it from being late.”

And he says Social Security has assured him they put a lock on his account so he never has to go through this again.

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