Safeguard your Social Security number from social security identity theft.
Your Social Security card is the most valuable little piece of paper you will ever own. And like all valuables, there are thieves trying to get to it. Most forms of identity theft have the end goal of attaining someone’s Social Security number, so it’s wise to prime yourself on the different types of Social Security identity theft and how they could affect you.
The general definition of identity theft is someone stealing your personal information to use to their advantage. Social Security identity theft goes deeper than that, as the personal information stolen is your all-important Social Security number. That gives the thieves access to a plethora of ways to ruin your credit.
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How can my Social Security number get stolen?
Everyone likes to think they can’t be outsmarted, but identity thieves will stop at nothing to access your Social Security number. Even the smartest among us can be tricked by a clever thief or hacker. Learn some common tactics and reduce your chances of being deceived:
Stealing your physical Social Security card
This is the most obvious way someone could get a hold of your Social Security number. Hopefully, you keep your physical Social Security card locked up somewhere in your home. But when it comes time to take it out of its secret hiding place, you’re at risk of losing it to theft, or even your own forgetfulness.
Always keep an eye on your card when you take it out of its hiding place, and put it right back as soon as you can. For example, say you are starting a new job and your employer needs to see your Social Security card. You will need to bring the card to work with you. Make sure the card (or the purse/wallet your card is in) is in your sight at all times. If Human Resources takes your card, make sure they give it back before you leave. When you get home, put the card right back in its safe place.
As for other sensitive documents with your Social Security number on them, the shredder is your best friend. Never throw away unshredded papers that contain your personal information. Sometimes, identity thieves dig through trash cans looking for these kinds of documents to gather personal data.
Online identity theft
Spotting online identity theft attempts is much more difficult than simply hiding your physical card. The web is a prime hunting ground for identity thieves, and they’ve come up with plenty of ways to trap you. Two of their main methods are phishing and malware.
Phishing happens when a criminal creates a fake website or email with a process called “spoofing” to deceive you into clicking a suspect link or responding with your personal information. Email scams are very common. You receive an email with a link from an address that looks legitimate. Actually, it is a spoofed email. If you click on the included link, it could download malware to your computer without you even knowing.
Malware is short for “malicious software.” If your computer is infected with malware, all of the personal information stored there (including your Social Security number) could be in jeopardy. Some types of malware steal information that is already on your device, while others, like spyware, can record every keystroke you type. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. To learn more, read what Debt.com has to say about online identity theft.
This type of Social Security identity theft has been all over the news lately. Data breaches occur when, using hacking methods or phishing/malware, criminals access a company’s customer database. They can steal thousands – or millions – of identities. There isn’t much you can personally do to protect your Social Security number from data breaches. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to recover your identity post-breach. Check out our post on data breaches to start creating your data breach plan.
Types of Social Security Identity Theft
Once a thief has your Social Security number, they can use it for themselves. Many aspects of your finances could change for the worse. Here are five ways a criminal can use your identity after they succeed at Social Security identity theft:
Your bank accounts and credit/debit cards are at the mercy of the identity thief if they have your Social Security number. That number will grant them access to your finances, allowing them to open new accounts in your name, drain your current accounts, transfer money to themselves or others, make large purchases they can’t afford, and more. If you start seeing suspicious activity on your credit card statements, find an unauthorized withdrawal from your bank account, or see an account you don’t recognize on your credit report, you could be a victim of financial identity theft.
You know you’re experiencing utility identity theft when you start receiving bills for utilities that don’t apply to you. Using your Social Security number, criminals can pay for their utilities with your credit or cash. If these bills go unpaid, they can start to mess with your credit score, too. Utilities can end up in collections, creating negative records on your credit report.
If your Social Security number is stolen, criminals can file medical insurance claims under your name or receive medical care that gets billed to you. If you start getting calls about medical bills for services you never received or your insurance company tells you you’ve hit your deductible limit when you know you haven’t, someone may be using your information for medical fraud.
Is there a warrant out for your arrest? There could be if an identity thief with your Social Security number gives your information in place of theirs upon their arrest. This can show up on your background reports and make it difficult to get a job later on. It can also lead to warrants that can potentially lead to an arrest if you get stopped for a routine traffic ticket.
Tax season is never fun, but it will be even worse if someone uses your Social Security number to file a fraudulent tax return. If you have problems filing because the government has already received a return under your name, someone has likely stolen your identity to get a refund in your name.
Getting a new Social Security number
If you’re a victim of Social Security identity theft, it’s possible to change your Social Security number. That’s about the only thing the Social Security Administration can do to help you. But it’s not always a good idea — it could make it harder to get credit.
For one thing, other government agencies and businesses have records from your old number. All that information may still be in your credit reports, especially if other identifiers like your address and name still match up. You’ll still need to go through the process of getting an identity theft report.
Even if your new number does end up providing a fresh start, you now have no credit history. You may have difficulty qualifying for credit cards and other loans until you build credit starting from scratch.
Note that the Social Security Administration will not issue a new number for anything other than demonstrable identity theft. They won’t change it simply because your card was lost or stolen, or to help you start over after bankruptcy, or to otherwise avoid legal responsibility.
Opening a “my Social Security” account
The Social Security Administration (SSA) knows that Social Security identity theft is a big problem. To help combat it, they created a program called “my Social Security.” This online account makes it possible for you to monitor anytime there’s a benefits claim using your Social Security number. This can help you spot any discrepancies.
Follow these steps to register now and have proof of your Social Security number if you have your identity stolen:
- Go to https://ssa.gov/myaccount and click “Create an Account.” This will take you to another page where you have to click “Create an Account” again. You will then have to accept the terms of service before you can go on to the next step.
- Fill out your information on the secure online form. After you complete the form, you have the opportunity to add extra security to your account. This is optional and you will get it in the mail if you so choose. Click “Next” at the bottom of the page to move on.
- Answer some questions about yourself and your credit history. The next page has multiple choice questions that ask if specific information about you is correct.
- Create a username and password. Make sure to keep these in a safe place. Access to this login info means access to your Social Security number.
- Confirm your contact information. You will receive a confirmation code by phone or email within 10 minutes. Enter the code to finish verifying your account.
NOTE: The system locks you out of the account creation process for 24 hours if you don’t answer the credit history questions correctly. For example, if you select the wrong street name on a multiple choice question about your past addresses, you won’t be able to continue the process until the next day.
Debt.com advises that everyone should create a my Social Security account. Social Security identity theft can be hard to improve. But it can become almost impossible if a cyberthief opens a my Social Security account because you didn’t!
Article last modified on January 22, 2020. Published by Debt.com, LLC