Since the number is connected to many important records about you, having your Social Security number stolen comes with a lot of risk that the thief will use it to harm you financially and even professionally. It's important that you become aware of the situation quickly so you can take the proper precautions and report the theft to the right organizations. Knowing the signs of SSN theft and common effects will help you gather key information to file your report and recover from the incident. Read on to learn about how SSN theft happens, what problems it can cause and what steps to take to recover and prevent future issues.
Understanding SSN and Identity Theft
If you've had your Social Security number stolen, this could have resulted from someone taking your physical Social Security card that you might have had in a lost wallet or purse, or they could have taken mail that showed the number. However, there are plenty of other ways a thief could get this information without even leaving their house. They could call you impersonating an organization with which you do business and get your SSN, or they could have used the internet to obtain your SSN through websites selling personal information, phishing schemes or large data breaches.
SSN theft and identity theft have a very close connection since the former often leads to the latter. Identity theft happens whenever the person who stole your SSN – or another piece of personal information – uses it for fraudulent acts that ran range from accessing and opening accounts to impersonating you during crimes. When this happens, you can face problems ranging from losing money and damaging your credit to getting caught up in legal battles. Having your Social Security number stolen doesn't automatically mean the person used it for anything, but it's a common warning sign that an identity thief will try.
Read More: Identity Theft: Most Common Types & Warning Signs
Exploring SSN Theft Risks
Unlike a stolen credit card number, debit card or check, a stolen SSN presents a particular risk due to the severity of the actions a criminal can do with this key piece of identifying information. While someone could spend with a stolen credit or debit card, someone with your SSN could sign up for things ranging from a passport or credit account to getting a job or license. They can also use your SSN to get access to your existing accounts and obtain sensitive information about your life.
In some cases, having your Social Security number stolen can lead to a full identity takeover that leads to a long and difficult recovery process. The person might get you in legal trouble if they defraud creditors or government agencies or if they use your SSN to help with committing real-world crimes. You can experience significant issues such as having a false criminal record that keeps you from getting housing or employment and dealing with monetary loss and credit damage that make it hard to pay for daily expenses or obtain credit for a car or home.
Identifying SSN Theft Signs
It's often hard to tell if someone stole your SSN until they start using this information to commit identity theft. However, you could identify it early on if you scan the news for data breaches that involved your information, notice a lost SSN card or important mail, or realize you gave your SSN to a likely scammer. Once identity thieves start using a stolen SSN, you might experience these incidents:
- Sudden rises or drops in your credit score
- Letters from the Social Security Administration about changes to your account
- Phone, email and mail communications regarding a bank, credit or insurance accounts you didn't open
- Seeing suspicious activities – such as incorrect balances, new accounts or delinquencies – on your credit report
- Missing government benefits payments
- Notices about tax returns you didn't file
- Medical bills you don't recognize
- Problems getting employment, health insurance or financing
- Unknown charges or withdrawals on bank and credit card statements
- Accusations for crimes you didn't commit
- Violations on your driving record
- Communications from employers you don't recognize
Preparing to Report SSN Theft
Before you report the SSN theft, you'll need to get as much proof ready as possible to make your claim and assist in researching the incident. The Federal Trade Commission suggests making using their assistant tool that will help you identify important documents like tax returns, bank statements, online and physical mail communications likely related to the SSN theft. You'll also want to look for credit card statements, bills and invoices, credit reports and personal records. Document anything like a stolen wallet, scam call or phishing attempt that might pinpoint how the SSN theft occurred too.
Reporting a Social Security Number Stolen
With your evidence in hand, you should contact various the following organizations as soon as you've realized someone has this important piece of information so that you can help mitigate the risk:
- SSA: Call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213 to inform them that someone stole your SSN and to make sure that the person didn't make unauthorized changes to your account. Depending on the situation, you might also get issued a new SSN.
- FTC: The FTC website has an identity theft report form you can fill out to include all the details and documentation available regarding SSN and identity theft and get a recovery plan with important next steps. You can also call 1-877-438-4338 if you'd prefer to speak to someone.
- IRS: If the incident led to tax fraud, then you'll need to call the IRS to explain and fill out IRS Form 14039.
- Police department: Since you may need a police report documenting the SSN theft, contact law enforcement and give all available details of the incident.
- Banks and creditors: Report any issues such as new accounts, fraudulent charges and other account actions to the associated creditors and banks. They'll likely have you answer questions and fill out forms so that they can conduct investigations and ultimately close accounts or reverse charges.
- Other associated companies: If the person used your SSN to make insurance claims, get a job, cause traffic incidents or open accounts at other types of businesses, you'll need to contact any organization or company involved.
- Credit bureaus: Reach out to all three credit bureaus so they can put a fraud alert and credit freeze to prevent your credit report from being accessed for new credit decisions. You can do this on the Experian, Equifax and Transunion websites or by phone or mail.
Preventing SSN Theft
Keeping your SSN confidential, not carrying your Social Security card with you and keeping a close eye on your personal and financial records can all help with preventing someone from stealing your SSN again. It also helps to be proactive when you hear about data breaches involving your SSN and take actions like freezing your credit reports and monitoring for suspicious communications and account changes.
You could also take advantage of identity monitoring services from IdentityIQ, IdentityGuard and LifeLock to help prevent identity theft and recover from it. Available in various plans and price levels, these services can monitor for credit report, address and criminal record changes as well as data breaches and financial account activity changes. You'll also benefit from alert systems when something suspicious comes up, and these services usually provide you with a large amount of insurance coverage for identity theft along with professional assistance.
- USA.gov: Identity Theft
- Social Security Administration: Identity Theft and Your Social Security Number
- FindLaw: Identity Theft
- Federal Trade Commission: Warning Signs of Identity Theft
- HHS.gov: How Do I Report Identity Theft?
- IdentityTheft.gov: Know Your Rights
- Consumer Affairs: How To Report Identity Theft
- Fraud Support: SSN ID Theft
- Investopedia: 10 Ways to Protect Your Social Security Number
- IdentityIQ: Home
- IdentityGuard: Home
- LifeLock: Home
- IRS: Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit
- Experian. “The Many Different Forms of Identity Theft.” Accessed Oct. 1, 2020.
- Equifax. “Types of Identity Theft.” Accessed Oct. 1, 2020.
- Experian. “What Is Social Security Fraud?” Accessed Oct. 1, 2020.
- FBI. “FBI Sees Spike in Fraudulent Unemployment Insurance Claims Filed Using Stolen Identities.” Accessed Oct. 1, 2020.
- USA.gov. “Identity Theft.” Accessed Oct. 1, 2020.
- FTC. "Identity Theft Recovery Steps." Accessed Oct. 1, 2020.
Ashley Donohoe has written about business and technology topics since 2010. Having a Master of Business Administration degree, bookkeeping certification and experience running a small business and doing tax returns, she is knowledgeable about the tax issues individuals and businesses face. Other places featuring her business writing include Zacks, JobHero, LoveToKnow, Bizfluent, Chron and Study.com.