A Social Security Number (SSN) is a set of numbers issued to all citizens of the United States and other eligible residents and individuals. The government uses this number to monitor and keep track of your income and determine your benefits when you need to retire or receive your disability claims.
If you apply for a job and get hired, your employer will require you to submit your SSN information. They’ll use this to report and file your tax returns to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and your contributions to the Social Security Administration (SSA).
Aside from claiming retirement and disability benefits, other uses of SSN include:
- Opening an account with any US-based financial institution;
- Applying for a passport;
- Enrolling in state-sponsored health insurance like Medicare and Medicaid;
- Seeking for unemployment benefits; and
- Getting a driver’s license.
In most cases, you’ll be using the same SSN until you reach your retirement age. However, you’d need to request a new one, especially if yours has been unfortunately compromised. Cybercriminals may steal your SSN and use it to access your credit cards, federal loans, benefits, and others. That being said, here are the steps you need to take once your Social Security has been compromised or stolen:
Get A New Social Security Card
If your SSN has been compromised because you lost your Social Security card, you need to seek a replacement as soon as possible. In this way, you’ll be able to prevent someone from using it to incur a lot of unauthorized debts or financial transactions.
Requesting a Social Security card replacement is quick and easy. First, you need to create a personal Social Security account at the SSA website (SSA.gov). Once you have created an account, you may request a replacement online and wait for it to be delivered to your doorstep in no more than 14 working days.
Nonetheless, if that’s too long for you to wait, here are the following steps you need to take:
- Print the Form SS-5 and fill in the details necessary.
- Call the SSA at their toll-free hotline at 1-800-772-1213 and request an appointment schedule.
- Go to your local SSA office based on the schedule provided.
- Make sure to bring original copies of all the documents requested. Photocopies will not be accepted or processed.
After the application, you’ll be given a receipt that’ll serve as your temporary card while waiting for your replacement card to arrive which may take around a couple of days or so.
Report Your Case For Potential Identity Theft
If you think someone is using your SSN illegally, the first thing you need to do is report the case for potential identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Then, you’ll also need to file a police report to help you identify who the thief is.
To report the case of identity theft, you need to visit the SSA website and proceed to IdentityTheft.gov. From there, you’ll be able to report your case of potential fraud if someone:
- Filed a tax return using your name;
- Claimed benefits under your name;
- Accessed your sensitive personal details;
- Accessed your credit cards and other financial activities using your name; and
- Exposed your personal data.
Next, you’ll be asked to submit different forms and request a recovery plan. These forms include Form 14039 or an affidavit for identity theft.
Request A Fraud Alert Or Credit Freeze
A credit freeze will put a strong restriction to prevent someone from accessing your credit accounts. With this, fraudsters won’t be able to open a new financial account, rent apartments, or request a loan using your credit information. Additionally, doing this will not affect your credit score and you can unfreeze your account anytime you want.
The first thing you need to do when freezing your credit reports is to contact the top three credit bureaus. Then, report the potential identity theft and fraud. After that, you’ll be given instructions that’ll help you get a report on the matter.
You may also file for a fraud alert to prevent the possibility of fraud in your credit file. Unlike placing account restrictions, it’ll require additional identity authentication before any credit is offered under your name. Also, a fraud alert may last for 90 days and is renewable for as long as you need it.
It’s best to keep in mind that requesting a fraud alert will notify the three credit bureaus and will not impact your credit rating.
Review Your Credit Reports Thoroughly
After filing for a credit freeze or fraud alert, the next thing to do is check and verify your credit reports. Look for accounts you’re not familiar with, especially those created just recently.
Also, look for credit claims and requests you didn’t do. Identify these creditors and contact them as soon as possible. Sometimes, creditors use the name of their company or their own. If it’s confusing, call the credit bureau to help you regarding this matter.
Furthermore, look at your personal information and see if there are any addresses on your list where you’ve never been before.
Contact Companies Involved In Fraudulent Activities
After finding some irregularities on your credit reports where your SSN may have been used fraudulently, you need to contact and work with every business involved. If it’s about opening an account under your name, call the financial institution and request permanent account closure on the recently opened bank account.
Further, if it’s about creating malicious records using your SSN information, communicate with all the agencies involved, including the SSA, IRS, and your local state. They’ll help you handle such cases connected to fraudulent identification.
What Can You Do To Protect Your SSN?
It’s said that the best way to address a compromised SSN is to prevent it from happening. Here are the following tips that may help you protect your number from any fraudulent activity:
- Leave your Social Security card at home whenever you’re going out.
- Never share your SSN with anyone unless their identities have been verified.
- Destroy any documents containing your SSN. Burn them if you must to prevent any sensitive information from leaking.
- Use strong passwords to protect digital documents carrying your SSN information.
- Request copies of your credit report annually to verify credit activities.
A Social Security number is highly sensitive personal information you have to protect at all costs. If fraudsters and cybercriminals lay their hands on it, they’ll be able to use it anytime and anywhere they want for their personal financial interests. This may lead to debts and tax issues, so you must take this matter seriously.
If you suspect any irregularities regarding your taxes, benefits, and credit files, don’t hesitate and call the concerned government and private agencies involved right away and file a report. They’ll guide you throughout the process to investigate the issue further and help you reclaim your SSN and others that you may have lost.