What To Do If Someone Has Your Social Security Number?

Most U.S. citizens are assigned a Social Security number at birth. This nine-digit number establishes a lifelong connection with the Social Security Administration, which maintains records of your wages and earnings and distributes benefits when you reach a qualifying age or disability status.

Since the first Social Security numbers were assigned in 1935, this data point has evolved into the primary method for verifying an individual’s identity for a variety of purposes, from taxes and other government services to health care and credit scoring.

Without a Social Security number, it can be nearly impossible to apply for a job, file your taxes, obtain federal loans, open a bank account or purchase a home. But what to do if someone has your social security number?

Given the immeasurable value of these simple series of numbers, identity thieves have discovered that Social Security number theft can provide a gold mine of potential cash and other benefits. Unfortunately for their victims, repairing the damage left in the aftermath of Social Security number theft is stressful, expensive, and time-consuming.

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What To Do If Someone Has Your Social Security Number?

Keep reading to learn more about the growing problem of Social Security number theft and how to protect yourself from these ruthless criminals.

Common Causes of Social Security Number Theft

The best way to deal with Social Security number theft is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Too many of us get lax with our physical and digital privacy practices, making us vulnerable to this form of identity theft, especially in the following common scenarios:

Physical Theft

Avoid carrying your Social Security card with you on a daily basis. Unless you need to provide it to a new employer or other authorized agency, take it out of your wallet and store it in a secure location, such as a safety deposit box at a bank or a fireproof lockbox at home.

You should also treat any documents containing your Social Security number, such as income tax returns or medical records, with equal care. Store them in a secure location and shred them if they are no longer needed.

Phishing

This form of online identity theft occurs when cybercriminals create fake websites or emails that appear to come from a reputable source, like your financial institution or health insurance company.

They may ask you to click a link and enter personally identifying information, including your Social Security number, for a seemingly legitimate purpose.

However, they do this, when in fact their motive is to trick you into providing them with the data they need to steal your identity.

Sophisticated phishing attempts can be difficult to spot, but broken or awkward English, misspellings and typos and logos that look “off” can provide clues that a website or email isn’t on the level. If you’re not sure, call the agency or institution to verify the request and their reason for needing the information.

Malware

Malware can occur as part of a phishing attempt, when a scam email convinces you to click a link that automatically downloads malicious software to your computer.

Once your device is infected, all personal information stored on it is at risk of being stolen, and some types of spyware can record future keystrokes and other activity to access your data.

Data Breaches

Mass data breaches have become an almost everyday occurrence in our increasingly digital culture, with cybercriminals gaining access to the stored files of corporate and government databases and mining the personal details of billions of account holders.

For example, a 2019 data breach at the social media behemoth Facebook affected more than 533 million of its users, while state-sponsored Chinese hackers were able to gain access to sensitive Microsoft-based files at more than 30,000 U.S. state and local government agencies and other organizations.

Potential Impacts of Social Security Number Theft

In addition to the physical and emotional stress it imparts, Social Security number theft generates a hefty financial price tag, borne by both individual victims and society as a whole.

The Social Security Administration estimates that it made nearly $8 billion in fraudulent payments in 2019, and the annual cost of fake credit card accounts, fraudulent medical claims, and other misuses of stolen Social Security numbers likely totals in the billions as well.

Thieves use stolen Social Security numbers in a variety of schemes. Click on each of the below accordion items to expand.

Responding to Social Security Number Theft

As soon as you suspect that you may be the victim of Social Security number theft, take the following steps to prevent additional damage to your personal and financial future:

  • Contact one of the three main credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) to initiate a credit freeze and place a fraud alert on your file. This will stop thieves from opening new accounts or loans using your stolen identity.
  • Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission and the Internet Crime Complaint Center, which will share the report with local, state and federal authorities.
  • In cases of extreme and irreparable financial and personal damage, you may consider applying for a new Social Security number. This option is not without its risks, as your new number will have no credit history attached to it, so you will have to spend years building your credit score. You will also have to prove both the identity theft and the subsequent hardships to the Social Security Administration, which will then determine whether or not your situation warrants the issuing of a new number.

Protecting Your Social Security Number from Fraud

If you’re fortunate enough to have avoided Social Security number theft thus far, you should consider taking preemptive action to protect yourself from hackers, identity thieves and other cybercriminals.

The most powerful step you can take to defend against this type of fraud is to open a “my Social Security” account. This online tool notifies you anytime a benefits claim is made using your Social Security number, which will quickly alert you to any unauthorized or suspicious activity.

To create your account, visit https://ssa.gov/myaccount and click “Create an Account.” Once you accept the terms of service, complete the online form and respond to the questions about yourself and your credit history. On the next page, you’ll confirm the accuracy of information on file. Create a unique username and strong password and then confirm your contact information with the code sent to your phone or email address.

The following steps will also help you keep your information secure:

  1. Store your Social Security card and other sensitive documents in a secure location (not in your wallet or purse).
  2. Shred documents that contain your Social Security number or other personal information once you no longer need them.
  3. Request more details when a person or business asks for your Social Security number, including why it’s needed, how it will be used and what will happen if you refuse to provide it.
  4. Check your credit report regularly and dispute any inaccurate information.

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What To Do If Someone Has Your Social Security Number? Our Final Thoughts

As Social Security number theft becomes increasingly common, we are all at risk of becoming a victim to this potentially devastating crime. It only takes a moment for a thief to gain access to your Social Security number, but the havoc it can wreak in your financial and personal life can take months or even years to repair.

It’s best to be proactive to protect your private data, but if you suspect your Social Security number has been compromised, respond immediately to minimize the damage.

1 thought on “What To Do If Someone Has Your Social Security Number?”

  1. From what I’m reading, you can assume your SSN was stolen in a hack, mostly like the Capital One or Equifax events from a few years ago, or more since. The equifax alone exposted 147 million SSNs. So I’d probably elevate “Data Breaches” to the top of the list as the most likely leaks for your SSN.

    Also, is it a benefit to freeze your credit at all three credit bureaus, rather than one?

    Reply

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