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 steal 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.
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How Can Your Social Security Number Be Stolen?
Identity thieves can use many ways to steal your Social Security number, including:
- Stealing your purse or wallet. Thieves aren’t only looking for cash when they steal someone’s purse or wallet. They also want your credit cards, photo ID, and Social Security number. This combination of personal information can allow a thief to pose as you and damage your financial stability.
- Digging through your trash. Thieves aren’t above digging through your trash to find as much personal information about you as possible. In fact, these criminals dig through both private and public trash cans and dumpsters looking for all types of information, including Social Security numbers.
- Phishing schemes. Phishing schemes have become a popular way for thieves to steal Social Security numbers. These thieves contact their victims by phone, text, or email pretending to be a business, such as a bank. They use this technique to trick the victim into providing their personal information, including their Social Security number.
- Data breaches. Data breaches allow identity thieves to steal large volumes of personal information in a short period of time. This type of breach occurs when thieves hack into a company website storing this information. Unfortunately, it can take days, weeks, or even months for a company to realize a data breach occurred.
- Stealing your records. Identity thieves can also steal your personal records, including your Social Security number, from your files at home, personnel records at work, through an unsecured website and many other means.
- Buying it on the Dark Web. Scammers don’t necessarily need to steal your Social Security number to get the information they want. If they know where to look, thieves may be able to buy your personal information on the dark web.
Warning Signs Your Social Security Number May Have Been Stolen
The sooner you realize your Social Security number has been stolen, the better chance you have to mitigate the damages. This makes it critical to understand the warning signs of a stolen Social Security number so you can take prompt action. Some of the most common signs of stolen Social Security numbers include:
- Receiving bills and statements from accounts you didn’t open
- Receiving a change of address notification letter from the U.S. Postal Service
- Charges or withdrawals from your bank account that you didn’t make
- Letters or calls from collection agencies about accounts you didn’t open
- Suspicious accounts or activity on your credit report
- Inaccurate notification from the Internal Revenue Service
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. 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.
6. Steal from Your Bank Account
Having access to your Social Security number may be enough to help a thief steal money from your bank account. Financial tools, such as CashApp and Zelle, can make it easier for these thieves to transfer money out of your account and into another they can access.
7. Get a Fraudulent Driver’s License
With your Social Security number, someone may open a fraudulent driver’s license in your name in another state. Without even realizing it, someone could rack up tickets or even charges, such as a DUI arrest, under your name and Social Security number.
8. Open a Phone Account and Set Up Additional Utilities Accounts
A common tactic thieves use with stolen Social Security numbers is to open phone or utility accounts under another name. When they fail to pay these bills, you could receive notification from collection agencies. This practice could also impact your credit score, as unpaid balances and missed payments can negatively impact your credit report.
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 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.
What Should You Do When You Suspect Your Social Security Number Has Been Stolen?
If you believe your Social Security number has been stolen, it’s important to take immediate action. Below is a list of steps you should take to reduce the impact of a stolen Social Security number. It’s important to note that you don’t have to complete these steps in order. But you should complete as many steps as are applicable to your specific situation.
1. Report the Theft to IdentityTheft.gov
One of the first things you want to do is report the crime of identity theft. The Federal Trade Commission manages the IdentityTheft.gov website to handle these types of crimes. The website guides you through a series of steps to help you file a complaint.
2. Contact Bank and Credit Card Companies
Be sure to contact your bank and credit card companies and explain the problem. Each financial institution has its own procedures for handling identity theft. That company’s fraud department should help you with this process.
3. Check Your Credit Report
Request a free copy of your credit report from the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. If you notice any errors or suspicious activity on your credit reports, contact the corresponding credit bureaus and ask them to remove this information from your account. Sign up for a service, such as Credit.com’s Extra Credit®, to continuously track your credit.
4. File a Complaint With the FBI
In many cases, identity theft is also considered an internet crime. This allows you to file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. The center accepts complaints from across the country but may refer the case to local authorities when applicable.
5. Review Your Social Security Statement
Take the time to review your earnings statement with Social Security to make sure no one uses your Social Security number for work. You can access this report by setting up an account at www.ssa.gov/myaccount.
6. File a Police Report
Even if you file a complaint with the FBI, you should still file a police report with your local law enforcement agency. Depending on how your Social Security number was stolen and used, your local police officers may be able to help you or refer you to another agency.
7. Request a Credit Freeze
It’s also recommended to put a credit freeze on your account while you’re dealing with the situation. This freeze prevents anyone from using your Social Security number to open new accounts or obtain credit, such as a car loan. To request this type of credit freeze, you must contact each credit reporting agency separately.
If a credit freeze seems too restrictive, you can have a fraud alert put on your account. This alert warns potential creditors that your identity may have been stolen, which should entice them to take extra steps to prove your identity before you can open an account.
8. Request a New Social Security Number
In extreme cases, you may be able to request a new Social Security number. This is recommended for cases of reoccurring identity theft. While this step can stop identity thieves from using your information, you also could lose your credit history.
How to Protect Your Social Security Number
Understanding the answer to “What can someone do with your Social Security number?” can help you protect yourself and your finances. Below is a look at several preventive steps you can take to reduce the risk of someone stealing your Social Security number.
- Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse.
- Be careful who you share your Social Security number with. Most creditors and financial institutions will only request your full Social Security number when you open an account.
- Keep your Social Security number and all documents that include your number in a locked filing cabinet or fireproof safe.
- Shred all documents that contain your personal information, including your Social Security number.
- Keep your electronics, including your phones, tablets, and laptops, updated with the latest safety features.
- Don’t respond to unsolicited text messages, emails, or phone calls. Instead, contact your bank, credit card company, or other creditors directly.
- Sign up for multifactor authentication account access when possible.
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