Lost or Stolen Social Security Number: What to do and How to Deter ID Theft
Social Security Number is Vital
Getting a loan, credit card, welfare assistance, a job, and insurance requires a Social Security Number (SSN). Without this number, you are pretty much helpless in the United States. What happens if you lost your Social Security Card, or worse, someone stole your number and your identity?
This article addresses necessary actions to be taken after your Social Security number has been compromised. It will touch on topics about credit fraud and other ID theft topics but the focus is on what to do if your SSN was lost or stolen.
There are many ways for someone to steal your identity which usually pertains to stealing your SSN. Perhaps someone stole your wallet, your house was robbed, or maybe you were scammed. Perhaps you unknowingly gave your information through a phishing scheme or you lost your Social Security card in a public place. However it happened, it's not the end of the world and your identity can be re-established;you just have to know where to go and who to talk to.
Where to go first?
First of all, go to IdentityTheft.gov. (I'm assuming you are internet savvy since you are reading this article on the world wide web.) This website is where you can tell the federal government what happened. It is managed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which is a federal law enforcement agency.
IdentityTheft.gov is a great tool to use to report ID theft. It can be use in lieu of a police report. Most credit card companies, banks, insurance, etc. will accept a report filed on IdentityTheft.gov in order for you to start clearing your name and false transactions. Reporting your information to IdentityTheft.gov will help assist you in your recovery of your identity. You will receive:
- a personal recovery plan
- pre-filled letters to send to merchants, banks, and others affected by the identity theft, and
- an “Identity Theft Report,” which is your official statement about the crime.
The FTC recommends filing a police report only if you know the identity of the thief, know pertinent information that can help solve the investigation, or if the credit company or bank insist on you providing a police report. Otherwise, the report you receive from IdentityTheft.gov will be sufficient enough as proof. Just like with the police, reporting ID theft through this website must be truthful under penalty of perjury or you will be held liable. Reporting to the FTC will free up your local police and help them focus on public safety.
What to Do Afterwards?
After filing a report on IdentityTheft.gov, contact the fraud department of your credit cards, banks, insurance companies, etc. and explain to them about the ID theft and try to clear up false transactions and claims.
Then call the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. Place a fraud alert with them for free. You are also allowed to request a free credit report on yourself once a year. If there is any false information on your credit history, you can dispute it with them. One thing that needs to be mentioned is some of the the credit bureaus services cost money but your once-a-year credit report is free. You can request a free credit report from the reputable and recommended website, annualcreditreport.com. All three bureaus have partnered up with this website for the public to obtain their free credit report. There are other credit report companies that says they can provide it for free but sometimes there are fine print clauses that will give you hidden fees and often times the credit report are not as accurate as one of the three main credit bureaus.
[Note: You only have to call one of the three credit bureaus to report ID theft and fraud. The one you call is obligated to contact the other two credit bureaus and share your report and information.]
Sometimes ID theft goes beyond credit cards and credit bureaus. When someone gets a hold of your SSN, they may try to apply for Social Services such as food stamps and Medicaid, apply for a cell phone with services, file taxes with the IRS, and apply for utilities like electricity and internet just to name a few. If any of these happens to you and you find out about it, sometimes via credit reports, you will have to contact those specific companies and inform them of theft and fraud. They have their own fraud departments and will inform you on what actions to take. For example, the IRS, if they deemed necessary, will assign you a temporary Tax Identification Number (TIN) in order for you to do your taxes.
The Three Credit Bureaus
While contacting your banks, credit cards, insurance, and anyone else you deem important enough to know your private information (like schools and doctors), inform them that you want to close the questionable accounts and open new accounts. If you have online accounts for easy access to your banks or insurance or even e-mails, I highly suggest you change your login names, passwords, and Personal Identification Number (PIN number) or you can close or delete your online accounts altogether.
What about my Social Security Number?
Your Social Security Number allows you to work in the US. If someone manages to use your number, whether you lost the Social Security card or it was stolen or in some cases, someone makes up an SSN and it matches yours, and gains employment, their employment will show up on your record. If this happens, go to your nearest Social Security Administration office and inform them that someone is using your SSN to work and it needs to be corrected or removed.
Usually you won't find out that someone else is using your SSN to work until you file your taxes with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). They will tell you via mail that your tax information is incorrect and you need to file your taxes for a job you never worked at. Sometimes, if you are curious, you can look at your work earnings through a mySSA account. If you have a mySSA account, look through your earnings record and see if they are correct. If you don't have one, I highly suggest you create one. If there are any discrepancies, either by IRS or SSA, your work history can be corrected.
Visit the SSA office and look over the years of employment in question. If there are any incorrect employment on your record they will remove it at your request. Sometimes they will require proof, such as an affidavit from the IRS or you sign a penalty of perjury official statement on an SSA form, before they will remove it. Before you start deleting employment from your record, make sure it is a place you never worked at before.
Sometimes the name of the employer or employment will not match the place you actually worked at but it could be the same place. For example, maybe you worked a manual labor job for a local business but the local business is owned by a corporation and on your work history, the name of the employment is the corporation and not the local business but it is one and the same. You don't want to delete your work history if you are not sure. Deleting your work history or work earnings will affect your social security benefits when you apply for Social Security disability or retirement. It will more than likely lower your monthly amount of benefits should you decide to apply for disability or retirement through Social Security. Before you start deleting or correcting your work record, make sure you worked or did not work at the place of employment.
The mySSA account only shows the money you earned through work. Let's say in 2009 you know you worked at one place only and earned $28,000 but on your mySSA work earnings, it shows you earn $106,000. That should be a red flag to go to the SSA office and delete some work earnings on your work record.
There is a difference in work earnings and work history. Work earnings shows how much you earned for that year which is free to obtain through mySSA or in your local SSA office. Work history shows who, what, and when you worked for that year and is not free to receive. You can review your work history with your SSA office but they will not give it to you for free. If you want a copy of your work history, you will have to submit a form, SSA 7050, and mail the form including the fees to an address in Baltimore.
Note: SSA only handles work earnings in terms of ID theft. They do not have the capabilities to put an alert on your record. They have no affiliation or authorization to report to the FTC or credit bureaus. That must be handled separately with those agencies and institutions.
Have you been a victim of ID theft
What Else Can I Do?
You must stay vigilant on your work earnings and credit report. There is a rumor that you can change your SSN to prevent ID theft. Changing your SSN is possible but it won't solve your ID theft altogether. It is extremely difficult to change your SSN just because you are a victim of identity theft. Here are a few reasons people get approved for a new SSN:
- Sequential numbers assigned to members of the same family are causing problems;
- More than one person is assigned or uses the same number;
- A victim of identity theft continues to be disadvantaged by using the original number;
- There is a situation of harassment, abuse or life endangerment; or
- An individual has religious or cultural objections to certain numbers or digits in the original number. (SSA requires written documentation in support of the objection from a religious group with which the number holder has an established relationship.)
If you fit in any of these scenarios, you must submit ample evidence to support the need to change your SSN. They won't change it right away either. Your request and documented evidence will be sent up to an SSA headquarters office for approval or denial and that could take months.
Even if they change the SSN, your old SSN will be attached to the new SSN because the old SSN may have work earnings that needs to be credited to your new SSN so you can get the most Social Security benefits you are eligible for. Changing your SSN will not stop ID theft and will probably give you just a little peace of mind.
Identity theft is very difficult to stop but you must be aware of your earnings and credit record. If you haven't been a victim, you might be a target in the future. I suggest you do these things from time to time to deter and prevent ID theft:
- Check your credit report with annualcreditreport.com
- Check your work earnings with mySSA account
- Change your PINs, passwords, and log in info with your banks, insurance and credit cards
I also suggest you do not carry your Social Security card with you. Just memorize the number and only carry the card with you if you need to, for example when an employer requests to see it before hiring.
Do not give your SSN over the phone or e-mail no matter who it is. Do not respond to any mail that seems to good to be true; you can always do some online research on the company mailing you to see if they are reputable and credible. Do not click on any e-mail that is not from a familiar source. This is the hardest to do; my suggestion is if you do not know who it is from, delete it. ID theft prevention starts with you.
Quick Message and other Tips for ID Theft from the FC
© 2017 Ken