In today’s digital world, your personal details, like your date of birth, name, address, and Social Security number, define who you are. Of these pieces of information, your Social Security number is crucial for things like getting credit, tax refunds, health and social benefits, and governmental services.
Identity theft has risen sharply over the past few years. In 2021, almost $5.9 billion was lost to fraud in the United States and over 1.4 million Americans had their identity stolen, up from 650,000 in 2019. Criminals are discovering more inventive ways to get hold of your money.
Do you know what to do if your Social Security number is stolen? This article explains the steps you can take. First, why should you do something?
Act if Your Social Security Number is Stolen
If criminals get access to your Social Security number, they can fraudulently use it to:
- apply for financial services like credit cards and loans
- claim tax refunds
- impersonate you if they’re in trouble with the law
- get benefits or healthcare in your name
Of course, they will have no intention of repaying any borrowing, and if you need to claim benefits or medical treatment, you might not be able to. This can cause chaos, cost money, and take time to resolve.
Being aware of what you can do and taking reasonable steps will help protect your identity. If you know or suspect someone has stolen your SSN, you can:
- see if someone’s using your details
- report it
- tell the businesses involved
- use a credit freeze or fraud alert service
- apply for professional credit monitoring
Now, let’s explain these in more detail.
1. Check whether someone is using your identity
If you believe someone has your Social Security number illegally, the next step is to see if your details are being used fraudulently. Here are some ways you can do that.
Study your bank and credit card statements
Sometimes a parent company or trading name appears on your bill. If there’s anything on your statement that you don’t recognize, try searching the internet for that name. If you see something suspicious that you can’t explain, contact your bank or card provider immediately.
Monitor your credit reports
Monitoring your credit reports allows you to see any new accounts like credit cards, loans, or other types of finance that have been opened in your name.
By federal law, each year, you can get a free credit report from the three main credit agencies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Go to www.annualcreditreport.com for details of how to do this.
It’s best to examine your credit reports regularly to look for any suspicious activity. All three agencies offer premium services to view your credit report more often with various tools and features for a small monthly fee. Check out their websites for more information: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
Be aware of suspicious financial activity
Staying aware of what’s going on with your finances can help you see when things aren’t right. Ask yourself:
- Did I receive a bill or receipt for something I didn’t buy?
- Have debt collection agencies contacted me about accounts that I didn’t open?
- Was I denied credit when I thought my credit score was good?
- Has a company suddenly stopped sending bills and letters in the mail?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, it could be a sign that someone’s using your SSN for illegal activities.
2. Report the theft
Reporting that someone stole your Social Security number gives you a legal record of the theft and can help you when dealing with companies and organizations. Here are several organizations you should contact:
Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
File an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission. Do this by filling in an online form on their website, www.identitytheft.gov, or by calling 1-877-438-4338. It helps to give them as much information about the theft as possible.
Social Security Agency (SSA)
If your Social Security card is missing or stolen, you can request a replacement card from the SSA. You can also ask them to lock your number, check your earnings, and even give you a new number if it’s compromised because someone has your card.
- How to lock your social security number: The SSA can also stop electronic access to your Social Security record if you’re sure someone has illegal access to your details. This means no one (including you) can see or change your personal information using their automated services. Do this online by registering for a My Social Security account. You could also speak to your local Social Security office by calling 1-800-269-0271.
The SSA can review your earnings if you think someone might have used your number for work purposes. Or you can view your Social Security Statement and check that the details are correct on your “my Social Security” account.
If you’ve taken all the steps in this article to repair the damage to your identity and someone is still using your SSN, you can apply for a replacement. You’ll have to prove that you’re having ongoing problems related to the illegal activity.
It’s a good idea to file a police report about your stolen SSN, especially if:
- you know who stole your number
- the thief has used your details when they’ve been in trouble with the law
- a debt collector or creditor specifically requests a police crime number.
Take a copy of your identity theft report from the FTC plus some photo ID and proof of address along with any details of the theft to your local police department.
Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
A dishonest person could report their earnings under your SSN, making it appear that you haven’t reported all your income. They could also falsely file your taxes and claim your refund for themselves. Telling the IRS about the theft reduces the chances of this happening. Visit www.irs.gov/uac/Identity-Protection or call 1-800-908-4490 to do this.
Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)
The IC3 is a joint venture between the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Justice Assistance, and the National White Collar Crime Center. If a crime has occurred, complete a complaint form at www.ic3.gov/Home/FileComplaint. They will share the information you give them with relevant law enforcement organizations in your local area and state, plus federal and international agencies.
3. Contact the affected companies
If you discover someone has fraudulently opened accounts or got refunds, benefits, or healthcare services in your name, reach out to each of the organizations involved.
Explain to them that your identity was stolen. If you don’t have a genuine account with them, dispute the charges and ask them to freeze the account. If the account is genuine but some charges aren’t, you could also ask for replacement account numbers and cards to prevent further unauthorized use.
You can include your FTC identity theft report and police crime report (if you have one) as proof that you’ve reported the theft and illegal activity.
4. Activate a fraud alert or credit freeze
Fraud alerts and credit freezes are two ways to block illegal use of your details to open new credit accounts. A fraud alert means companies have to confirm your identity before opening new accounts, whereas a credit freeze blocks all credit applications until it’s removed. Here’s how they work:
There are two types of fraud alerts: temporary and extended. You can set up a temporary fraud alert at any time by contacting one of the three main credit bureaus. It tells any organization asking for your credit report that you may be a victim of identity theft. They must confirm your identity before processing any application. Temporary fraud alerts last a year, and you can cancel them whenever you need to.
An extended fraud alert is active for seven years unless you ask to remove it sooner. The difference with this type of alert is that you’ll need to provide a copy of a police or other identity theft report to set it up. This shows that you are a victim of identity theft.
It’s free to set up a fraud alert at the three credit agencies, TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. When you contact one of these businesses, they will tell the other two, so fraud alerts are added to all three organizations. To remove the alert, you’ll need to notify all three agencies and provide proof of identity.
You can set up a credit freeze (also called a security freeze) at all three credit agencies. It stops all creditors from accessing your credit file until you remove the freeze. This means no one can set up new accounts or services in your name, including you.
Although a credit freeze provides more protection than a fraud alert, it’s also less convenient. If you’re planning on buying a car, getting a cellphone contract, or doing anything that requires a credit check, you’ll need to remove the freeze first.
To freeze and unfreeze your credit, you’ll need to contact each credit agency individually, either on their websites or by phone. If you’re planning any credit applications, you’ll have to remove the freeze temporarily or permanently.
Should I use a fraud alert or credit freeze?
Deciding whether to use a fraud alert or credit freeze depends on how serious your situation is. For example, say you lost your bag with your Social Security card inside. With no other consequences, you might decide to just monitor your finances closely rather than have the inconvenience of a fraud alert or credit freeze.
But if you notice suspicious activity on your credit file, you could decide to activate a fraud alert as a layer of protection. And if you have proof someone’s fraudulently opening accounts in your name, a credit freeze might well be an appropriate step.
5. Use professional identity theft and credit repair services
Along with accessing your credit report as often as you like, you can also pay a subscription fee for professionals to monitor your credit and offer help. Companies often sell these services bundled together.
How identity theft services can help
- someone accesses your credit history
- a new account appears on your credit files
- your personal details change on your credit report
- your credit limits change
- a payment on your file is late
They can also offer recovery assistance and insurance to deal with the costs and paperwork involved.
How credit repair services can help with a stolen social security
- go through the process of thoroughly investigating your files at the three main credit bureaus
- challenge and remove any items resulting from fraud
- manage and optimize your credit to get the most out of your finances
Read more about the 6 Best Identity Theft Protection Services you can use.
Identity theft and credit repair services may not prevent every instance of identity fraud, but they can help you to act quickly to prevent the damage from escalating.
6. Protect your identity
After taking steps to stop someone from using your Social Security number without your authorization, consider the following tips:
- Keep your Social Security Card in a safe place. Don’t routinely carry it in your wallet, purse, or bag.
- If you keep an electronic copy of your SSN, make sure it’s in a password-protected file or is otherwise unrecognizable to others.
- Be careful who you give your personal information to. If an individual or organization asks for your SSN, check whether they really need it. Could you verify your identity in another way?
- Collect your mail every day and put a hold on it if you’re away.
- Shred, burn, or otherwise securely throw away anything with your personal information on it.
- Don’t share your financial information online while using public or unsecured Wi-Fi networks.
- Keep your personal details in a safe place. Consider using an antivirus program, a virtual private network (VPN), and a firewall on your electronic devices.
SSN - Identity Theft FAQs
Can you put a freeze on your Social Security number?
How do I check to see if someone is using my Social Security number?
What happens if a hacker gets your Social Security number?