Having your Social Security number or card stolen isn’t exactly like getting your bank account information taken. You can easily get a new bank account number and have your bank freeze your accounts. On the other hand, it’s a bit more difficult to get a new Social Security number from the Social Security Administration.
What Is a Social Security Number?
The Social Security Administration loosely defines a Social Security number as a nine-digit number for identity-tracking purposes. It’s also used to track wages earned during someone’s lifetime for Social Security benefits.
As of 2011, the selection of this number is randomized. Whenever you start a new job or apply for government benefits, you need your Social Security number. It’s used to verify your identity and keep track of Social Security earnings.
You can locate your Social Security number on your Social Security card. If you can’t find your card, make sure you reach out to the Social Security Administration directly.
What Can You Do with a Social Security Number?
Since the government uses your social security number as a unique identifier, you can use it to do the following.
- Apply for jobs
- Open a bank account
- Sign up for a credit card
- Apply for a passport
- File taxes
- Enroll in health insurance
- Get a driver’s license
How Social Security Number Theft Occurs: What Happens If Someone Gets Your Social Security Number?
There are a lot of ways someone can your identity or Social Security number. Thieves could swipe your Social Security number by exploiting data breaches, going through the trash for personal documents or using any number of other approaches. Thieves can then sell your identity or pretend to be you to open various accounts in your name, access medical care, file fraudulent tax returns or, at worst, commit crimes.
What Can Someone Do with Your Social Security Number?
Once an identity thief has your Social Security number, they can commit all sorts of financial fraud, potentially leaving you on the hook for their misconduct. Social Security numbers are wrapped up in most aspects of Americans’ lives—employment, medical history, taxes, education and bank accounts, to name a few. Below is a list of just a few things someone can do with your SSN if they get their hands on it.
1. Open Financial Accounts
Your Social Security number is the most important piece of personal information a bank needs when extending you credit or opening an account. With that number, a thief can get credit cards or loans. And when it’s time to repay them, they won’t, which will damage your credit score. Those missed payments are tied to your Social Security number, so they’ll end up on your credit report and could impact your ability to apply for any type of loan or new account in the future.
Once you spot suspicious transactions, you can use your credit scores and credit reports to detect fraud and put an end to it. Unfortunately, it could take years for the fraudulent information to be removed from your credit report and, as a result, for your credit scores to recover.
Can Someone Access My Bank Account with My Social Security Number?
Thieves might have a difficult time accessing your bank account if they only knew your Social Security number. Most of the time, to either access an existing account or open up a new bank account, the bank would require additional forms of identification, such as your physical Social Security card, Real ID or passport.
Also, many banks have implemented additional security measures to prevent this, such as requiring security questions to access your bank account.
2. Get Medical Care
Someone using your Social Security number could also undergo medical treatment, effectively tainting your medical records. Inaccurate medical records can have deadly consequences. For example, imagine what could happen if you received treatment based on a false history listing the wrong blood type. Additionally, thieves can poach your health insurance coverage, which could leave you in a bind when you need it.
3. File a Fraudulent Tax Refund
Taxpayer identity theft continues to be a problem in the United States, although theIRS reported in 2018 that incidents were on the general decline, noting a 40% decrease in taxpayer reports of identity theft since 2016. However, in 2017, the IRS still received 242,000 reports of identity theft from taxpayers.
Identity thieves use stolen Social Security numbers to get a fraudulent refund, which then delays any refund the victim is rightfully owed.
So, the sooner you file your taxes, the more likely you’ll get your refund before an identity thief has an opportunity to take advantage of your stolen identity. You’ll know someone stole your identity if your return is rejected as a duplicate. Then, you get to start the process of resolving the fraud and, if necessary, getting the refund you deserve.
4. Commit Crimes
Getting your Social Security number might just be a fraction of the thief’s crimes. If the identity thief gets arrested for another crime and gives your Social Security number to law enforcement, you can become tangled in their criminal history. Their criminal record could prevent you from getting jobs or interfere with anything else that requires a criminal background check.
5. Steal Your Benefits
A thief could also use your Social Security number to file for unemployment or Social Security benefits, depleting those resources and preventing you from accessing that assistance when you need it later on.
How to Find Out If Your Social Security Number Has Been Stolen
Thieves can operate under your identity for years without discovery, and some of these crimes are very difficult to detect. One of the best things you can do is regularly check your credit report from Credit.com’s credit report card. Review your credit report thoroughly for unauthorized accounts or public records not related to you. These red flags could indicate clerical errors or identity theft. Either way, you want to watch out for it and act as soon as you see something suspicious.
You can also go to IdentityTheft.gov, a website run by the Federal Trade Commission, or call its hotline at 877-ID-THEFT.