Social Security Number theft

What Do You Do If Your Social Security Number Is Stolen?

Last updated on May 2, 2021

Every month brings reports of yet another major data breach. In 2020 alone, many huge organizations with well-funded cybersecurity departments have been hacked, from Easyjet to the New Zealand stock exchange.

Each time this happens, private data is exposed and stolen potentially creating serious problems for the true owners. Among the worst of the data to be stolen are Social Security Numbers. This is extremely sensitive data and can create a devastating outcome for the victims if it falls into the wrong hands.

Do you think that your Social Security number has been stolen? Keep reading to find out what to do.

A Checklist for After Having Your SSN Stolen

These 9 steps run through exactly what to do if your social security number is stolen:

1. Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

Firstly, report the crime to the FTC using their dedicated website. You must establish, as quickly as possible, that you are a victim of a stolen SSN, in case a thief commits crimes or racks up debt using your identity. The FTC will use your information to develop and put into action a personalized recovery plan. They also provide sample letters that you can send to banks, credit card companies, and other agencies to dispute charges/debts and get fraudulent information removed from your credit file.

2. Report the identity theft to the police

The police can’t always help with internet-based fraud. However, if you know who stole your identity or committed the fraud, have information that could aid a police investigation, or your identity was used fraudulently in a direct encounter with the police, it’s important to file a report. Moreover, some creditors or companies may insist on one.

3. Choose the best way to protect your credit

Before you call any credit agencies, you’ll need to decide whether to opt for a credit freeze or an extended fraud alert:

Fraud Alert

A fraud alert or fraud victim statement is a note that stays on your credit report for seven years, warning potential creditors, landlords, insurance companies, and employers that you have been the victim of fraud. This tells them to contact you to check that you made the application. It’s also possible to request a temporary fraud alert, which lasts for up to a year.

The benefit of a fraud alert is that you can keep applying for credit while it’s in place. However, while lenders are asked to call you before they extend credit, you have no guarantee they will. The other problem is that your credit file isn’t secure. Creditors (and the identity thief) may find the attempt thwarted, but not before they’ve potentially impacted your credit file.

Credit Freeze

A credit freeze or security freeze means your credit file is locked up, so no one can attempt to look at your credit score, open a new account, secure credit or apply for a job in your name. The only problem is: neither can you.

If you want to do anything that requires a credit check, from taking out a loan to changing your cell phone contract, you’ll need to temporarily “thaw” your credit file using a PIN provided by the credit bureau. You can either ask for your file to remain thawed for a set period or request an individual, single-use PIN that the lender can use for one credit bureau only.

Which of these you should choose if you’ve had your SSN stolen depends on your circumstances. Credit freezes offer peace of mind, but they can be impractical, especially for those who still have major financial and career milestones ahead of them. That said, if you’re settled and don’t anticipate needing many credit checks going forward, a credit freeze may be best.

4. Contact the Credit Bureaus

Reach out to the major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) to implement your credit freeze or fraud alert. Note that these companies must, by law, implement either free of charge. If you opt for a fraud alert, you only need to call one credit bureau and they will alert the others. If you choose a credit freeze, you need to call all three separately.

The contact details are as follows:

  • Equifax: Call 1-888-766-0008 or click here.

  • Experian: Call 1-888-397-3742. If you would like to arrange a fraud alert, click here. For a credit, freeze click here.

  • TransUnion: Call 1-800-680-7289. For fraud alerts click here and for credit, freezes click here.

*While you have these credit bureaus on the phone, make sure you get them to send you a copy of your credit report. If you make it clear you’ve had your social security number stolen, they should provide this for free. You can then check through it to make sure no accounts have been opened without your knowledge.

5. Alert the IRS

Another common use for a stolen SSN is tax fraud: namely, filing fraudulent tax returns in your name in order to claim any refunds and other benefits. That makes it vital to report the identity theft to the IRS by calling 1-800-908-4490 at the earliest opportunity.

6. Contact your healthcare provider

Sometimes a stolen SSN is used to charge medical treatment to you or make false medical insurance claims. Contact your health provider to warn them of the risk and ask them to let you know if there is any activity linked to your health records.

7. Contact any other companies linked to your SSN

If you discover anything unexpected in your credit report (namely, you receive any fraud alerts or you’re contacted by any companies claiming that you tried to get credit from them) write to them immediately to request full details of the fraudulent activity, and challenge any charges. You can use this letter template. Close or freeze these accounts as well as any of your existing accounts that have been compromised.

8. Apply for a new social security number

You may be able to get a replacement SSN, but it can be difficult – and the decision is ultimately down to the Social Security Administration (SSA). You can find your local number here or submit this form.

In order to be considered for a new SSN, you will need to:

  • Prove fraudulent activity has occurred

  • Show a police report

  • Prove that the theft has caused you serious hardship, e.g. trouble with the law or IRS, or inability to get a mortgage loan

Even if you manage to get a new SSN, it may not help. Your old one will still exist and will still be linked to you, so you’ll need to monitor your credit anyway. Plus, you’ll have to start over with a new SSN that has no positive credit history.

9. Keep detailed records

Finally, make sure you keep track of every interaction throughout this whole process. You may need to keep proving your innocence and fighting fraudulent claims for years to come. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but it’s important to stay vigilant with this to keep ensuring that your identity is not being taken advantage of.

Preventing SNN Identity Theft from Happening Again

The best way to protect yourself is to stop your SSN from getting stolen in the first place. Here’s how to avoid getting your social security number stolen again:

  • Don’t hand over your SSN just because someone asks: As a general rule, you’re only obligated to hand over your SSN to companies and agencies that report to the IRS. That includes banks, creditors, employers, state and welfare departments, unemployment insurance agencies, worker’s compensation providers, and (if you have savings bonds), the US Treasury. Even Medicare doesn’t need your SSN. If you’re unsure, feel free to ask the person requesting your SSN why they need it and how they interact with the IRS. If they don’t have a good enough reason, offer an alternative ID.
  • Regularly check your credit report: Every few months, order free copies of your credit reports in order to check whether any suspicious accounts have been opened or searches made. It’s important to stay on top of this, so nothing catches you off guard when it’s too late.
  • Invest in identity protection. Identity theft protection software provides an excellent way to monitor your SSN and alert you against attempts to take over your bank account. For example, Identity Guard uses IBM Watson artificial intelligence-powered algorithms to scan the web (and the dark web), looking for vulnerabilities in your online behavior. It also provides anti-phishing, antivirus, safe browsing, and parental control tools. Plus, if your identity is stolen, it helps with the recovery process and even reimburses you up to a million dollars.

The Bottom Line

Having your identity stolen is no laughing matter, and it can seem like you are completely doomed if it does come about. Although there is some work required, you will be able to recover from a stolen SSN and keep your finances, medical data, and personal life protected. Obviously, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your SSN, so prevention is key.

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