Social security number theft can have a long-lasting effect on a person’s life as it can affect their credit score and social benefits. That’s why it’s crucial to act fast if you have even the tiniest suspicion your SSN got into the wrong hands. Though identity thieves can be sneaky and hard to chase down, the frauds they commit can rarely go unnoticed. Here are the signs that may indicate another person is using your social security number:
- Unrecognized financial activities. If the earnings on your social security statement don’t match reality, or you notice any odd charges on your credit card statement, the chances are high that someone is in possession of your SSN. You should be on alert if you notice any new credit accounts or new lines of credit opened in your name.
- Suspicious emails or messages. With your SSN compromised, you may receive bills for various services you haven’t used or requested. Coming through emails and messages, they usually contain requests to provide more information tied to your identity to resolve billing issues.
- Unidentified tax returns. When gotten into the wrong hands, your SSN may be used to steal your identity and file a fraudulent tax return to receive whatever money you should be issued after the tax return period. If you received notification from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that more than one tax return has been filed under your SSN, that’s a clear sign of the attempt.
- Calls from debt collectors. If criminals used your SSN to buy costly items on an installment basis, you may start receiving calls from debt collectors asking for the money you owe them. Though it might as well be just another scam, be cautious and make sure to check the financial records tied to your personal data.
Even without clear signs of your social security number already being used by someone else, you should be more alert in the following situations:
- You’ve lost your social security card. Though the Social Security office can issue you a new one, your lost social security card can get into the hands of identity thieves, in which case you might be in for some trouble.
- Scammers trying to trick you into giving in your SSN. Be aware of various social engineering techniques scammers use to lure you into giving away your personal details, including your SSN.
- You became a victim of a data breach. Data breaches have become pretty common in the last couple of years. So, if you’ve ever become a victim of a data breach in the past, the chances are high that your personal information, including your SSN, may be floating around the dark web.
If you realize your social security number has been stolen or compromised, you must act fast to reduce the possible damage. Once cybercriminals get hold of your SSN, they can use it to steal your identity. Here are ways to respond to your identity theft due to a stolen SSN:
- Your first step should be to inform the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about the identity theft. You can do that by filling out a report on their website. You should also fill out a report with the police. It’s a good idea to ask for a copy of the police report because it may later serve you if you decide to put an extended fraud alert with credit bureaus or if you want to initiate identity recovery and resolution processes.
- If you are sure that someone has stolen your identity, you should also inform the IRS and Social Security Administration. It is your best shot to save yourself from possible tax fraud and protect your social benefits.
- Your next step should be to put a freeze on your accounts. It will help to stop criminals from opening new bank accounts or taking out loans in your name. If you need to use your credit checks after they’re frozen, you’ll need to pass through an additional identity verification or temporarily unfreeze your account. It’s important to note that the credit freeze won’t affect your credit score in any way. To put a freeze on your accounts, you’ll need to contact the three major credit bureaus in the US – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – separately.
- If you find out that scammers have been creating bogus accounts in your name, you should contact all the companies with a fake account in your name. This is a situation when an official police report about your identity theft may be useful as proof of your claim.
Additional steps to protect yourself
Even if your social security number is still safe in your hands, be aware that it is not so hard to get it compromised if you don’t take proper care of it. Here are some tips on how you can protect your SSN from being stolen and safeguard your identity:
- Don’t carry your social security card with you. Things like small pieces of paper get lost easily, and social security cards are no exception. If your card ends up in the possession of a criminal, you may suffer from identity theft. If not – you may suffer from constantly wondering if it did get into the hands of criminals. So, better memorize the SSN to use when needed and leave the card safely home.
- Don’t share your SSN with unauthorized parties. Whenever you’re asked to provide your social security number over the phone, make sure the requesting entity is legitimate.
- Protect physical and digital documents containing your SSN. Safely dispose of any physical documents with your social security number if you don’t need them anymore. Make sure to protect any digital documents containing your SSN with strong passwords.
- Beware of scams and phishing attempts. Malicious entities are finding more creative ways to convince people to give away their personal details through scam calls or phishing emails. Losing data that proves your identity to cybercriminals can end up with grave consequences.
- Regularly monitor your credit reports. It’s a good practice to look through your accounts and bank statements for suspicious activity. It may help to find out if someone is using your identity and check if any accounts you don’t recognize have been opened in your name. US residents can be issued one free credit card report per year – make sure to make use of it. You should also keep an eye on your driving and insurance records for any suspicious activity.
- Place a fraud alert on your social security number. If you suspect that someone may be using your SSN, you should put a fraud alert on your SSN. This way, businesses and banks will be inclined to verify your identity with extra caution whenever they are asked to provide credit or open a new account in your name. You can place a fraud alert by contacting any of the three major credit bureaus: Unlike requesting a credit freeze, it’s enough to inform one of the institutions to be covered by all three. Fraud alerts typically last for one year, but they can be extended with an official identity theft report from the police or FTC. With an active fraud alert on your SSN, you can also request more than one free credit report over the year.