Is Someone Using Your Social Security Number?

All crime can make the blood boil but one that frustrates thousands of Americans annually is the crime of identity theft. It is one of the fastest growing crimes in the country with an estimated one third of adults having experienced some form of identity fraud.

This fraud can be anything from someone hacking your food delivery app to order food at your expense (which I have experienced a few times) to the fraudulent use of your Social Security number. A hacked food app account is usually an easy fix and may not have a huge impact but fraud using your Social Security number can do serious damage.

If a thief gains access to your Social Security number they can potentially make a lot of money and leave you financially ruined for years to come. They can open new bank accounts, drain your existing accounts, open credit cards, take out loans and even file a tax return to claim your refund for themselves

Sometimes their activities go unnoticed until it is already too late but there are steps you can take to detect any fraud early. Using good practices you can detect if your Social Security number is compromised and minimize the damage.

How to Find Out Whether Someone Else Is Using Your Social Security Number

For all the benefits of our digitally connected world it is this very thing that makes Social Security card fraud and identity theft so easy for the criminals. Starting with almost constant data breaches with thousands reported annually our personal information is at risk online.

We supply vital identifying information about ourselves to numerous websites and some of these even require our Social Security numbers. A data breach at the wrong place could easily expose our personal nine digit number along with our names to cyber criminals.

Once the criminals have that number and know the name attached to it they are all set to start tearing apart our financial security for their own gain. They do not know if we are rich or poor as church mice, they never have to look us in the face to rob us blind.

They will work fast knowing that eventually their activity will be detected but before then they intend to enrich themselves by thousands of dollars of our money. This is why we must be alert to the risks and ever vigilant regarding our personal information.

There are steps that we can take to ensure that no one has access to our Social Security number. This will help us stay ahead of the criminals so we can more quickly shut off their access if they do manage to breach our personal data.

The earlier we detect an issue the more quickly it can be stopped and the easier it will be to fix the damage. Thieves will ride our Social Security numbers as far as they can until they get rejected and then they will move to their next victim without blinking.

The first place to start your pre-emptive defenses is to keep a wary eye on your credit report. You can monitor your credit report on sites such as Credit Karma and annualcreditreport.com for free. New applications for loans or credit cards will show up on these credit reports letting you know quickly if someone is using your Social Security number.

Once you have access to a regular credit report the next step is to sign yourself up for a My Social Security account as SSA.gov. This will allow you to view your latest Social Security statements which can also show indications of fraudulent use of your Social Security card.

Also keep an eye on your credit score itself. If you are not opening accounts then changes to your score should be minimal and generally to the positive. But a sudden unexplained dip in your credit score could indicate fraud has occurred.

The My Social Security account allows you to see your earnings and work history. If you find that it indicates you are working somewhere that you do not or have not worked then someone else is also using your Social Security number.

Obtaining a copy of your most recent tax transcript from the IRS will also let you know if someone else may have tried to file taxes using your name and Social Security number. This may seem odd but criminals will file taxes in your name so they can claim your refund. Once filed and accepted this can be a major mess to clean up and you will not receive a refund for that tax year as it has already been claimed.

Monitor your emails and snail mail for any irregularities. If you suddenly stop receiving statements that you always used to or you get messages for things you did not sign up for this can indicate something is happening connected to your Social Security number.

Warning Signs That Your Social Security Number Has Been Stolen

There are certain signs that can indicate immediately that you may have a problem and that someone else now has use of your Social Security number. In this section we will mention several signs that you should be alert for to help you stay ahead of thieves.

Password Reset Notifications

If you have ever forgotten a password for something you have likely had to request a reset to regain access so you should know how this works. Password reset notifications can actually be a sign of two different types of scam.

Firstly there may be an email attempt to phish for personal data such as your Social Security number or bank account details. You click the link and you are taken somewhere where you are requested to give such details to regain access to an account.

Obviously if the email is claiming you have an account somewhere you know that you do not this could be a classic phishing scam and you should click nothing.

The second reason you might get an unexpected password reset from a place you do have an account with is because someone is actively trying to take control of your account. If this is the case do not click the link in the email but instead visit your account to change your email independent of this message.

If someone has gained access to your account, changing the password will stop them in their tracks in this particular instance. The fact that this has happened however could indicate someone has some of your personal data so you may need to take steps to secure all of your accounts.

Significant Credit Score Changes

You should know what you are doing with regards to your credit cards, loans and mortgages so any notable changes to your credit score should not be a surprise. If you for instance paid off a big chunk of debt your score may jump up. Applying for new loans may cause a sudden drop in the score.

So if you check your credit score at least once a week and there is a sudden drop for no known reason you need to get a full credit report as soon as possible. You will want to be looking for any new accounts or requests for accounts that should not be there.

If someone has opened accounts or tried to do so in your name then they must have access to your Social Security number. This means you need to take immediate action to cut off the criminals.

Banking Record Irregularities

If a thief manages to gain access to your Social Security number it is not particularly difficult for them to also access your personal bank accounts. Once they have access to your bank accounts they can do a lot of damage in very short order.

Money can be transferred out of your accounts, new debit cards can be issued and a host of other actions can be taken to steal your money. These activities will cause noticeable irregularities in your bank that you should be able to discern.

If money is being removed from your account and it was not initiated by an authorized user you must immediately contact your bank's fraud department who will help you lock it down to regain control of the situation.

Letters From Your Bank or the IRS

As a general rule of thumb if you are in good standing with your taxes you will receive very few letters in the mail from the IRS beyond confirmations of tax returns and refunds. So any letter from the IRS should be opened as it may be an indication of Social Security card fraud.

You might receive a letter confirming a filing of taxes when you are still in the process of preparing them. Thieves try to swoop in early in tax season to use your Social Security number to pirate away your potential refund.

Receiving unexpected letters from the bank may also indicate some illegal activity has been perpetrated or attempted against your account. Although banks often call if they detect fraud the IRS does not ever call you, they will communicate through letters.

Fraudulent Tax Returns

This has become an alarmingly common problem in recent years causing tax preparers to require proof of identification before they will even look at your taxes for you. Sadly this doesn’t stop thieves who have ways to file taxes that circumvent the need for ID.

If thieves have your Social Security they can file taxes in your name and claim your refund. It could potentially take over a year to come to light as your legally prepared taxes will likely come in after the thief has already made off with your refund.

It may not come out until you call up enquiring about your refund and get casually informed that you already filed and received the refund.

What to Do If Someone Is Using Your Social Security Number

You have verified someone somewhere has your Social Security number and is in the process of demolishing your finances for their own gain. There is no time to lose. You need to get this situation under control as quickly as possible so follow these tips.

Report it Immediately

The very first thing you need to do is cover your own back because things are likely to get worse before they get better. Go straight to the local police and file a report so you have a record of the theft. This will come in useful down the line as you may be fighting some battles.

Once you have a police report or theft affidavit next contact the IRS and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). It might also be wise to contact your bank to make sure they are aware of the situation and if they have any extra security steps that you can use to secure your accounts.

Freeze Your Accounts

This might sting a little but you are likely going to have to place a freeze on your accounts to stop the fraud in its tracks. Notify your bank and the credit agencies that your Social Security number has been compromised.

Put a freeze on your credit cards and also put a fraud alert on your Social Security number with the credit agencies. This fraud alert will stop any further accounts being opened in your name until you get this situation under control. Accounts can only be opened after the credit agency confirms you are the rightful owner of the Social Security number.

Request a New Social Security Card

If your card was lost or stolen you may need to order a new card for your own personal use. This is easily done through your My Social Security account. If however the fraud has reached unassailable levels you may also have to request a new Social Security number entirely.

Will the Thieves get Caught?

I would love to say that the odds of the thief getting caught and punished are high but the truth is that they are not. The hands off nature of the crimes mean it is very hard to track the criminals and they have become increasingly adept at not leaving a trail.

This doesn’t mean they will never get caught but the chances are they will be getting away with your money and leaving a big mess to clean up.

Conclusion

There are many ways to detect the theft of your Social Security number but they all require you to be vigilant. To the thieves we are just a name and nine digits so they have no qualms about stealing as much as they can as quickly as possible.

We have to monitor our credit scores, bank accounts and Social Security activity closely and with regularity. Hopefully we will never become a victim of this type of crime but if we do, finding out early can save us financially and avoid cleaning up a massive financial mess.

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