Stolen Social Security numbers are a monumentally huge problem.
Fraudulent use of stolen Social Security numbers cost U.S. taxpayers more than $2 billion dollars in 2020 (the most recent data). Credit experts estimate that about one in every 20 Americans is impacted by identity theft each year.
Maybe you suspect that your Social Security number has been stolen. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing for sure that some criminal has your number until they use it. If your personal information has been comprised by a data breach, your Social Security number (and other personal information) may have landed on the dark web, those areas of the internet that can only be accessed with special software and are specifically designed to be used for criminal activities.
There are companies that offer dark web monitoring. However, they may not be worth the cost, because most of the stolen credentials reported by monitoring have already been used, abused, and resold multiple times. By time you are notified, it’s already too late for you to do much about it. A potentially better option is to check with your credit card company. Many of them now offer free credit monitoring to cardholders, especially if you have previously been the victim of identity theft or a data breach.
The best way to check to see if someone is using your SSN is to regularly check your credit report. You can do this online through AnnualCreditReport.com, the only website authorized by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to provide free credit reports. You can also use the Annual Credit Report phone number (1-877-322-8228) to request your credit report. By federal law, you are entitled to one free credit report annually from each of the three major credit reporting companies (Experian, Transunion, and Equifax). If you spread out your credit report requests you can get a report from one of the companies every four months. After you get your credit report, review it carefully to see if anything is out of the ordinary.
While you are checking your credit report, consider freezing your credit. You can do this free of charge. By freezing your credit report for now, you’re preventing anyone (including you) from opening credit in your name. You can unfreeze your credit report online when you are applying for a loan or opening a new account and then re-freeze it.
Another way to find out if someone is using your SSN is to take a look at your Social Security Statement. If someone else has begun withdrawing benefits against your Social Security account earnings, this is a telltale sign that your SSN is being used illegally. Your Social Security Statement is available to view online by opening a my Social Security account.
If you believe your Social Security number has been stolen, you need to take steps quickly to undo any damage to your credit and prevent further fraudulent use of your SSN:
2) Report the incident to these federal agencies: the Social Security Administration, the IRS and the Federal Trade Commission. Alert the Social Security Administration that your SSN has been compromised. Report the incident to the Internal Revenue Service so that the identity thief does not file for your tax refund. Additionally, it is wise to file a formal report with the FTC via IdentityTheft.gov. This government website will also help you create a recovery plan.
3) Contact local police. Because identity criminals can commit crimes using your information, filing a police report covers you in case of illegal activity by the identity thief. Make sure that the police department files a formal report and that they send you a copy of the report.
Like so many aspects of life, the best defense is a good offense. Take charge of protecting your identity by being diligent in taking care of your personal information. The SSA suggests these measures that you can take to prevent your Social Security Number from being stolen:
• Never say your SSN aloud in public.
• Beware of phishing scams (emails, internet links, and phone calls) to trick you into revealing personal information.
• Create a personal my Social Security account to help you keep track of your records and identify any suspicious activity.
• Consider adding these blocks to your account with Social Security:
– The Direct Deposit Fraud Prevention block — this prevents anyone, including you, from enrolling in direct deposit or changing your address or direct deposit information through my Social Security or a financial institution (via auto-enrollment). Once you add the block, you will need to contact your local office to request removal of the block or make any future changes to direct deposit or contact information.
• Visit If You Want Extra Security to get information regarding extra security.