The Equifax breach exposed Social Security numbers and other important information used to authenticate someone’s identity for 145.5 million Americans. Credit reporting firms use Social Security numbers to authenticate potential borrowers. After all, Social Security numbers are unique, permanent, and used by more than 80 percent of adults. According to the Wall Street Journal (October 2017), “In both 2001 and 2006, the financial services sector Coordinating Council, a banking industry group, told Congress that by using Social Security numbers to “verify individual identities,” credit-reporting firms can quickly provide financial institutions with accurate credit histories.”
According to the Social Security Administration (SSA.gov) if a dishonest person has your Social Security number it can be used to get more information about you. This information can be used to apply for credit in your name. Next, bills go unpaid, you can be turned down for credit, and receive calls from unknown lenders demanding payment. To prevent someone from stealing our Social Security number the SSA makes these suggestions:
1.Do not routinely carry your Social Security card or other documents that have your Social Security number in your wallet or purse
2.Do not provide your Social Security number when completing forms at unsecured Web sites
3.Do not toss papers with your Social Security number into the trash
4.Do not provide your Social Security number to someone via Email or the telephone. While the individual may seem to have a legitimate need (such as an employer or property owner) they may be an imposter.
What to do if you Think Someone is Using Your Social Security Number
According to the SSA sometimes more than one person can be using a Social Security number. This can be by accident or on purpose. A review of your earnings can indicate if someone is using your Social Security number for work purposes. Contact Social Security to report the problem at www.socialsecurity.gov to call toll free at 1-800-772-1213; TTY number 1-800-325-0778.
What to do if an Identity Thief is Creating Credit Problems for You
If your Social Security number has been misused to create credit or other problems, the Social Security Administration cannot help you. However, you can report the problem at Identity Theft (www.identifytheft.gov) and receive a recovery plan that shows the steps you need to take in the recovery process. This is a one-stop resource managed by the Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency. You can also call 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338); TTY 1-866-653-4261.
You may also want to contact the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Some identity thieves use Social Security numbers to file tax returns to receive refunds. If you are eligible for a refund, a thief could file a tax return before you do and get your refund. Later, when you file, the IRS will think you already received your refund.
Additionally, your employer reports your income to the IRS using your Social Security number. If someone is using your Social Security number for work, when you file your return, you will look like you did not report all your income. This can cause tax issues. If you think someone has stolen your identity, go to www.irs.gov/uac/identity-protection or call 1-800-908-4490.
Steps to Take if You Think Your Identity has been Stolen
If your identity has been stolen you should file a complaint online at the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at www.ic3.gov. This organization sends every complaint to one or more law enforcement or regulatory agencies with jurisdiction. The mission of the IC3 is to receive, develop, and refer criminal complaints regarding cyber crimes to the law enforcement community. This includes federal, state, local, and international agencies.
You can also monitor your credit report periodically. (Each of the three credit-reporting firms offers free annual reports to consumers.) For your free report go to www.annualcreditreport.com.
Should You Get a New Social Security Card?
If you have done all that you can do, and someone is still using your Social Security number, the Social Security Administration can assign you a new number. Be warned, sometimes this causes more trouble. Having a new Social Security number may erase your past credit history and make it difficult to get credit. Additionally, the IRS, banks, and businesses will still have your old Social Security number. Therefore, you are not guaranteed a fresh start.
It is important to keep in mind that you cannot get a new Social Security number:
1.If your Social Security card is lost or stolen, but there is no evidence that someone is using your number
2.To avoid the consequences of filing for bankruptcy
3.If you intend to avoid the law or your legal responsibility
When applying for a new Social security number you will need proof of identity, age, and U.S. citizenship or immigration status. For more information about getting a new Social Security card, see “Your Social Security Number and Card”(Publication Number 05-100022).