Your Social Security Number or SSN is your tax identification number, helping federal tax agencies and the Social Security Authority monitor and adjust your wages, earning statements, tax refunds, and retirement savings.
Your SSN is the most critical piece of information you have in your online, financial, and medical portfolios. If thieves can steal this essential number, they can do a lot of damage to your finances, credit rating, or medical and employee benefits.
If you suspect you’ve been the victim of identity fraud because your mail contains notifications for accounts you never opened, or it stops coming, or your benefits run out well before they’re supposed to, contact federal authorities immediately and freeze your accounts.
Your Social Security Number
Every American is issued a Social Security Number when they’re born in a hospital in the United States. It is your first contact with Social Security, and you will continuously interact with this federal agency throughout your life as long as you work legally in the U.S.
If you are a permanent resident or are in the U.S. on a working visa provisionally, you are also issued the nine-digit tax I.D. number. Ostensibly these numbers were used at first to track citizens by the Social Security Administration, but now it is your main personally identifying information (PII).
Your PII is info like your birth date, medical records, and previous addresses, and your SSN is the crown jewel. If an identity thief gets their hands on your SSN, they can do significant short- and long-term damage.
Signs Your SSN Is Compromised
There are a couple of telltale signs that someone is fraudulently using your SSN. If you get mail that is addressed to you, but the contents don’t correspond with any of your bank or tax records, someone may be using your SSN and name.
If you get medical bills through the mail or, worse still, are told that you cannot obtain services or medicines because you’ve reached your limit with the insurance company, you may be dealing with identity fraud.
You may have noticed that your mail’s amount and regularity have reduced drastically, or it may stop altogether. Identity thieves can use your SSN to request a change-of-address form and divert your mail and any mail they generate with your identity to a destination of their choosing.
What to Do Next
Once you’re onto them, you need to act quickly to ensure there’s no more damage from the offending party.
Your first step is to contact the Social Security Authority to report the theft. Then you should freeze all of your accounts by contacting one of the major credit reporting businesses, such as Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion.
You should also request a full credit report if you haven’t in a few months; you’re eligible for one from each agency annually. Here are the steps if you’ve been wondering, “How do I check to see if someone is using my social security number?”
- Alert the Proper Authorities
Once you’ve discovered that your SSN has been compromised and is being used to start new accounts or credit lines or use your medical or employee benefits, let the SSA know as soon as possible.
You should also let your local police department know of the fraud by filing a police report. They won’t be able to investigate a case in which an SSN has been stolen and used fraudulently, but when you’re recovering from identity theft, evidence like a police report is crucial documentation.
- Freeze Your Accounts
Contact the three major credit reporting agencies to put a temporary freeze on your credit. This won’t affect your credit score, but it will prevent you from doing things like applying for loans or renting an apartment. You can temporarily lift the credit freeze if you are making extensive changes like a move or a new business, but it’s a complicated process.
Another option is to put an extended fraud alert on your credit so that it’s not impossible to make changes, but any request will be met with scrutiny. You can get one of these alerts if you’ve filed for a police report, and it will last seven years.
- Contact Appropriate Companies
Not only must you contact federal authorities like the SSA and your local police, but you should also contact any company or agency that dealt with the fraudster using your SSN.
You must contact each company separately and change your login and password, which can be time-consuming, but it safeguards your compromised SSN.
- Update Your Defense Systems
Besides checking your credit reports and being diligent about anomalies in your accounts, you need to double-down on your current online data security system. If you don’t have firewalls, ad-blockers, or another type of defense system, thieves may be able to sneak into your hard drive and discover essential info like your SSN.
If you’ve wondered, “How do I check to see if someone is using my Social Security Number?” you need to make sure that your physical documents are locked away appropriately and your online files are similarly protected.
Another way to beef up your defenses is to regularly change your passwords and take advantage of the three major credit reporting agencies. They offer a free credit report every year. You can stagger them for even closer scrutiny by getting a different credit report every few months.
If you have suspicions that your Social Security Number is being used fraudulently, you need to make sure. Keep a close eye on your credit reports and other financial information and report any abnormal activity to the Social Security Authority.
Look for telltale signs like strange changes to your existing accounts, new accounts, or a stoppage in your mail; these are clues that fraud may have occurred. By freezing your accounts and contacting each company and the SSA, you can check to see if your SSN is in the wrong hands.