Identity Theft and Your Social Security Number: What You Need to Know
Almost everyone in America has been a victim of identity theft or knows someone who has been. A criminal who has your Social Security number can use it to get other personal information about you. Identity thieves will often use your number and your good credit to apply for more credit in your name. Then, they use the new credit cards they received (in your name) to purchase products that they often resell for cash. And, they never pay the credit card bills. All of this does severe damage to your credit scores.
You may not find out that someone is using your number until you have been turned down for credit, like applying for a new car lease, or you start getting calls from creditors or collection agencies demanding payment for items you never purchased.
Someone illegally using your Social Security number and assuming your identity can cause you a great deal of distress and problems.
Your Social Security Number Is Confidential
The Social Security Administration always keeps your Social Security number protected and your records confidential. They never provide your number to anyone, except when authorized by law. You should be incredibly careful about sharing your number, even when you are asked for it. Before providing your number, ask why it is needed, how they will be using it and what will happen if you do not provide it. The answers to these questions can help you decide if you want to provide your Social Security number.
How Can Someone Steal Your Social Security Number?
Identity thieves get your personal information by:
- Stealing your wallet or purse, and hacking your mail and getting your bank and credit card statements, new checks, pre-approved credit offers, and tax information;
- Stealing information that you provide to an unsecured and unknown site online, from your business or personnel records at work, and your personal information in your home;
- Rummaging through your trash, the trash of businesses for personal data;
- Posing on phone and email as employers or landlords who legally needs information about you
- Buying personal information from “inside” sources. For example, an identity thief may pay a store employee for personal information about you that was on your purchase or application for goods, services, and/or credit.
Be Careful with Your Social Security Number
When you have a new job, ensure that your employer has your correct Social Security number so that your records are accurate. Provide your Social Security number to the financial institution(s) you have accounts with for tax reporting purposes. Make sure you keep your card and other documents that have your Social Security number in a safe place. DO NOT carry your card with you (or any document) that displays your Social Security number.
What If Someone Is Using Your Number?
More than one person can sometimes use the same Social Security number. This can be either on purpose or by accident. If you suspect someone is using your number for work purposes, you should contact the Social Security Administration to report the problem. They can review your earnings to ensure your records are correct or advise you if they are not.
You also may review earnings posted in your name and number on your Social Security statement. This statement is available online to workers who are 18 years and older. To get your statement, you can go to www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount. If you do not have an account, you can create one on the site.
What If Identity Theft Is Creating Credit Problems?
If someone misused your Social Security number or other personal information to create credit problems, the Social Security Administration could not resolve them.
However, there are some things you can do.
Visit www.IdentityTheft.gov to report any identity theft and get a recovery plan. IdentityTheft.gov guides you through every step of your recovery process. It is a one-stop resource managed by the Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency.
You can also call 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338).
You may also contact the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). An identity thief might use your Social Security number to file a tax return to try to steal your tax refund. If you are entitled to a tax refund, the thief could get your refund by filing a return before you do. Then, when you file, the IRS thinks you have already received your refund.
If your Social Security number gets stolen, another person can use your number to get a job. That person’s employer would use your Social Security number to report earned income to the IRS. The IRS would think that you did not report all your income on your tax return. If someone has stolen your identity and you think you may have tax issues, visit
www.irs.gov/uac/Identity-Protection or call 1-800-908-4490.
You can also file an online complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at www.ic3.gov. The IC3 provides an easy-to-use reporting mechanism to victims of cybercrime that alerts authorities of suspected civil or criminal violations. IC3 sends every online complaint to one or more regulatory or law enforcement or agencies.
IC3 refers criminal cybercrime complaints to authorities in the proper jurisdiction. IC3 serves the law enforcement community that combats Internet crime. This includes federal, state, local, and even international agencies. IC3 reflects a partnership between the National White Collar Crime Center, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Bureau of Justice Assistance.
You should monitor your credit report periodically. You can get free credit reports online at www.annualcreditreport.com or other services like Credit Karma.
Should You Get a New Social Security Number?
If you have done everything to fix the problems caused due to the misuse of your Social Security number and someone is still misusing your number, Social Security Administration may give you a new Social Security number.
However, you cannot get a new Social Security number:
- If your Social Security card gets lost or stolen, but there is no proof that someone else is using your number;
- To avoid the consequences of filing for bankruptcy; or
- If you want to avoid the law or your legal duty.
If you decide to apply for a new number, you must provide your identity, age, and U.S. citizenship or immigration status. You must provide evidence you are having ongoing problems because of the misuse of your number.
Keep in mind that a new number will not solve all of your problems. Many agencies (like the IRS and your state motor vehicle department) and private businesses (your bank and credit reporting companies) have records under your old Social Security number. Credit reporting companies use your number to identify your credit record.
Using a new number does not guarantee you a fresh start. This is especially true if your other personal information, like your name and address, stays the same.
If you do receive a new Social Security number, you should discontinue use of the old number. For some victims of identity theft, getting a new number creates more problems. If your old credit information is not linked with your new Social Security number, the absence of credit history on your new number will make it difficult for you to obtain new credit.
Remember, you are responsible for keeping your information safe and secure. Never provide your Social Security number unless you are certain it is required and safe to give out!