How to Check if Your Social Security Number Has Been Stolen
Data breaches have become more numerous in the past two decades and personal data is at greater risk than ever. The Identity Theft Resource Center reported that security incidents increased by 40% y/y in 2016. A data breach isn’t the only way, in which your Social Security number can be stolen. More old-fashioned methods still exist, like someone claiming to represent the government or another trusted establishment or someone stealing your physical documents.
Theft of a Social Security number is a form of identity theft, which can inflict great damage on your finances. Thankfully, there are some measures you can take to be less vulnerable. The sooner you’re able to recognize the signs that someone has stolen your SSN, the more rapidly you can move to limit the damage. Here are the ways to check if you’ve been the victim of identity theft.
Request and Check Your Credit Report
Any accounts in your name, like student or car loans, credit cards, and mortgages, will show up on your credit report. If an identity thief opens a new account using your SSN, it will appear on your report within a few weeks. Checking your report regularly is a simple and effective way to catch thieves in the act early on.
Don’t ignore things like personal data errors or unfamiliar new accounts on your report. In particular, a mistaken SSN can be very telling when it comes to identity theft. An accurate background check can reveal that someone has been using your Social Security number.
SSN Stolen for Employment Purposes
You can see if someone is using your Social Security number for work-related purposes by reviewing your statement at www.socialsecurity.gov. In addition, check your credit card and bank accounts online at regular intervals, like once a month.
Issues with Credit Companies
A credit provider calling you about a strange problem is a sure sign that your SSN has been stolen. It’s possible that the thief used your number to open a credit line.
Messages From the IRS
The IRS doesn’t normally call people. They correspond by regular mail. If they’re sending you correspondence, your SSN may have been hacked. It may be that they’re observing suspicious transactions involving your data that indicate a crime has been committed.
Inexplicable Credit Score Changes
Banks and other lenders factor people’s credit scores into their decision whether to grant a loan or not. They evaluate them to check the possible risks. Your credit score, in turn, is affected by a number of factors. It’s a good idea to check it now and then and make adjustments if it needs to be improved.
If you find that there are accounts you didn’t open when you check your credit information, your SSN may have been stolen. Another indicator is being rejected for a loan or credit line for no apparent reason.
False Data on Your Job Records
Sometimes criminals will attempt to steal an SSN to use it to pass a background check or get a job. Your personal Social Security statement lists your earnings, which helps prevent this from occurring.
False Banking Details
You can well expect all identity thieves to have a common goal: stealing the victim’s money. Check your bank statements carefully. Go through each transaction and verify that you initiated it. Any payments you didn’t make can mean your SSN was stolen.
Small charges on debit or credit accounts may signal that a thief is trying to open a new membership, subscription, or account in your name. These are test charges made for the purpose of verifying an account.
Email or Regular Mail Changes
Hackers, scammers, and other cybercriminals watch people’s mail for valuable information to get their hands on. If you’ve stopped receiving invoices, bank statements, credit card statements, or other documents you used to get regularly, an identity theft may be using your SSN.
Broadly speaking, you can expect to experience two types of changes. You might start getting notices of purchases not made by you. This might include getting mail at your address, but to a different person’s name. If your SSN is stolen, a very strange trail of regular mail will emerge. Another possible change is no longer getting email notifications confirming your purchases.
What to Do if You Think Your SSN Has Been Stolen
If you suspect your SSN has been stolen, you must report your case to the government agencies responsible immediately. The first option is through the Social Security Administration. The SSA will route you to IdentityTheft.gov. In addition to this, it’s recommended you contact the police in your area and file a report. You need this document to start dealing with the consequences of identity theft even if it emerges that your county or city can’t investigate the actual crime.
If you suspect someone at your company is misusing your SSN, contact the fraud department. Tell them you believe you’ve suffered identity theft and explain why. They will guide you on changing any user names and passwords you use to log in to the company’s site or accounts.
Ask for a Credit Freeze
Approach Equifax, Transunion, and Experian for a freeze on your credit. This will not harm your credit score. It will only keep lenders from accessing your credit report, thereby stopping criminals from applying for loans, renting properties, or opening credit accounts in your name. You need to suspend the freeze temporarily if you decide to do one of these things. If you’ve filed a report with the police, you can get a copy and ask the credit bureaus for an extended fraud alert. Its duration is seven years.
Getting a New SSN
Many victims of SSN theft believe (and hope) that getting a new Social Security number from the administration responsible will resolve the issue. Unfortunately, that’s a rather idealistic notion. First, the burden of proving your number was used to commit a crime, that you did everything you could to get the criminal caught, and that you suffered damage lies with you. What’s more, getting a new number doesn’t make your old one invalid. If there are errors on your credit report or you have bad credit, the authorities may suspect you’re trying to get a new SSN to clear it. Again, you have to prove this isn’t the case.
Resources for Victims of Identity Theft
Your first port of call should be the FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline. The number is 877-438-4338 (877-ID-THEFT). Then, you can contact the three main credit bureaus’ fraud divisions. The numbers for Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion are 888-397-3742, 800-525-6285, and 800-680-7289, respectively.
Take it Easy: Reconsider Extreme Measures
Don’t take any extreme measures like freezing your credit if there are no signs your SSN was used to commit a crime. If you merely suspect someone has compromised your number, use identity theft protection services or free credit monitoring products instead. For instance, most companies that suffer a breach of data will provide victimized employees with some type of credit monitoring product, which won’t cost them anything.
If you have a Discover card and your SSN appears on sites used by thieves to purchase and sell personal data, the company will notify you via its monitoring service, which is also free.
Last but not least, each of the three bureaus mentioned issues free copies of consumers’ credit reports every year. You can request your three at AnnualCreditReport.com. A fraud alert from these organizations will protect your credit from potentially unauthorized access for around three months.
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