At best, an identity thief may use part of your identity as the launchpad for some phony persona that they are using to commit acts of fraud and light scams. At worst, they can drain your bank accounts, destroy your credit rating, and wipe out your hard-earned retirement benefits. Identity theft is not a minor crime – in 2018, more than 60 million Americans reported that they were affected by identity theft.
Someone May Be Using Your SSN
People can use your Social Security Number to access bank accounts, open new accounts, and more. If this is happening it may go undetected.
A lot of times there are indications that something is amiss. These are the top five signs your information has been compromised.
Checking Your Credit Score
The most common way to catch unauthorized activity is by checking your credit information. If an account appears that you did not initiate, someone is using your Social Security number.
You can check your credit score using a third-party service like Credit Karma or check with your credit card company to see if they have such a feature.
If you’re applying for a new line of credit and get turned down, this could mean that there are fraudulent accounts or activities that are affecting your credit score.
Inaccurate Banking Info
When you’re looking through your bank statements, you may notice charges or subscriptions that you didn’t make. If this is the case, someone either gained access to your debit card number, or they’re accessing your bank account with your stolen Social Security Number.
Checking your banking statements and credit card statements regularly will keep you updated on what’s happening with your personal information.
Your Mail Changes
Whether you’ve stopped receiving bills and correspondence in the mail, or you’re receiving bills for accounts and products you did not purchase, this is another sign that your Social Security Number has been compromised.
Scammers attempting to steal your personal information may watch your mailbox and steal the items from it.
Letters from the IRS
It’s important to mention the IRS does not call people, they just don’t. If the IRS is trying to get in touch with you, they’ll send a letter in the mail. Assuming you haven’t had any tax woes, receiving a letter from the IRS may indicate something is happening with your SSN.
Calls from Credit Agencies
This one may seem obvious, but if creditors are calling you regarding accounts you know are not yours, someone has used your SSN to open a new line of credit.
- Your employer informs you there is a problem with your Social Security Number when they are doing their paperwork and tax filings
- You get two-factor authorization requests that you did not submit
- You see small “test charges” on your credit or debit accounts
- You start getting advertisements for high-end items like cars, boats, and home improvement loans because there has been high-ticket activity on your accounts that you don’t recognize
How Do Scammers Get Your SSN?
You may wonder how people get your Social Security Number. There are several ways this information can be obtained.
Although rare, a company’s data breach may result in your personal information getting into the hands of a scammer. Companies will usually notify you if this has been an issue and in many cases will pay for a subscription service to an anti-identity theft software.
Even rarer is the information being obtained by someone hacking your personal computer, phone, or other tech devices. It is advised that you shouldn’t access private accounts from public wifi networks where others can easily gain access, but we do have an article here to help you browse online safely.
Phone Call Scams
Lately, one of the more prominent issues with SSN piracy has been phone call scams. These are designed to play on people’s fear and build urgency so that you will provide private information over the phone.
They often come from strange phone numbers (Spoofed numbers) and the speaker makes threats like: “you’ll be taken to jail” or “your SSN has been compromised.” If you receive one of these calls disconnect the phone immediately and check your credit, bank statements, and other accounts. Although these scammers rarely have any of your personal information, it’s a good idea to keep an eye any changes to your credit history.
Your Social Security Card
Whether you’ve lost your social security card or someone an acquaintance used the number, this is another common way that someone has obtained this information. Keeping your social security card safe, not keeping it in your wallet, and making sure that no one can get to it is another way to protect your identity.
What If Someone Steals My Social Security Number?
All of this is of course very interesting, but let’s bring it back to the point of this article: what if some bad guy steals, obtains, guesses at, or otherwise gets hold of your Social Security Number? As it happens, all kinds of bad things!
Because you have to have a Social Security Number to get a job in the United States (at least, any job above the table), crooks are very fond of stealing SSNs specifically for the purpose of selling them to people who do not already have permission to work in the United States, so that those people can get a job.
Nothing is wrong with people getting jobs, of course, but if they are using your Social Security Number, it can cause untold confusion and issues with your taxes and your Social Security benefits. You could even LOSE your Social Security benefits – and that can be hundreds of thousands of dollars.
As you can see, it is very important for you to be able to tell whether someone is using your Social Security Number without your permission. In this article, I will show you several methods of detecting whether your Social Security Number has been compromised.
Directly Check Your Social Security Number
There are three ways to directly check for activity relating to your Social Security Number.
Get a Social Security Statement
The Social Security Administration maintains an online service that lets you find out what you have paid into Social Security, how many hours of work your employers have reported each quarter, and what your expected benefits would be if you were to retire or go on disability in the near future.
By requesting your Social Security statement, you can check these figures against your last statement and against what paid work you have been doing recently, to quickly see if someone else has been logging hours to your Social Security account.
You may think that would be wonderful since the worker reporting hours to your Social Security account is moving you closer to vesting your Social Security benefit, but in fact, you can have your expected Social Security payments greatly reduced if someone is reporting low-wage labor to your account. So you want to clear up any double-dipping of your Social Security account.
Requesting your statement is straightforward. You will need to create a “my Social Security” account if you don’t already have one. You can access the sign-in/account creation page here. Once logged in, you can request a Social Security statement to print out from your account. If you prefer a low-tech approach, you can fill out a request form and mail it in, and get a statement mailed to you in 4 to 6 weeks.
Get a Tax Transcript
Another way of detecting activity on your Social Security number is to request your most recent tax transcript. If someone has filed tax documents using your Social Security Number, the transcript will show activity that you know you didn’t originate, and you’ll have a definite answer.
Getting your most recent tax transcript is quite simple. Just use the tax transcript tool on the IRS website. You can also call the IRS and request one directly at 1-800-908-9946. Or you can print and mail in Form 4506-T to request transcripts for your various tax documents by mail.
Check Your Credit Report
The Social Security Administration can tell you if someone is working on your SSN and the IRS can tell you if someone is filing taxes on it, but only your credit agencies can tell you if someone is using your SSN to acquire and use credit in your name.
There are three major credit reporting agencies in the United States: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. They each have slightly different methodologies and scoring programs, but they all more or less provide the same service.
You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report every 12 months (you should be getting them every year anyway because they are your lifeline to good credit). By contacting each service and requesting your report, you can immediately spot any suspicious activity on your credit accounts. Look for credit card applications, loan applications, and any debt you don’t recognize.
Requesting your reports is simple:
- Equifax: 1-800-525-6285 – equifax.com
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742 – experian.com
- TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289 – transunion.com
You may also want to subscribe to one of the many monthly update services which will give you a free credit report each month, basically in exchange for looking at the occasional advertisement.
Credit Karma is a reputable service, and if you sign up for it (or one of the many others doing the same thing) you can keep a monthly eye on your credit score and your credit history, making it very difficult for an identity thief to put one over you in the long run.
Someone’s Got Your Number – What Can You Do?
Figuring out that someone has your Social Security Number is one thing. Fixing the problem is another. If you think someone is using your Social Security Number, you need to move quickly.
You have four things you need to do. You need to contact the Federal Trade Commission to report identity theft, contact the credit reference agencies to report the theft, contact the Social Security Administration, and contact your local police.
- The FTC is at 1-877-438-4338 or https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/. There is a form to complete to report identity theft.
- Contact the three credit reference agencies and ask them to place a freeze on your credit report. This will prevent any new applications from being created in your name. This will stop more debt from piling up.
- Contact the SSA on 1-800-269-0271 or Log on to the IRS Identity Protection website to alert them and prevent any tax returns from being filed in your name.
- Optionally, but recommended, alert the Internet Crime Complaints Center at http://www.ic3.gov/. They alert other agencies that your SSN has been compromised.
Once all that has been done, report the crime to your local police. If you know how the theft took place, for example, you had your wallet stolen, the police will want to know where the theft would have happened, and what transpired.
If someone else is using your Social Security Number, it is absolutely crucial to act quickly. Any delay can mean more debt and another lender you have to work with to get things sorted out. The longer a fraud has been going on, the less likely you are to get an expeditious reversal of the charges from the merchants and vendors that the thief has run up accounts with.
Fortunately, most institutions are well-practiced in handling identity theft and have teams and processes in place to help. It will take time and a lot of work on your part, but it is possible to get yourself back to the position you were in before the theft happened.