Updated on September 15th, 2018
A Social Security number is one of the hallmarks of American life. So what do you do if your Social Security number has been compromised? Do you have any recourse to protect yourself?
First, let’s explain what a Social Security number is. It is a unique nine-digit number, different for each person and given to people who are employed in America, whether they be United States’ citizens, permanent residents or people who are considered temporary residents.
When such a person is employed, the person pays into a system called Social Security which is essentially a pot of monies.
Upon retirement, the person receives a percentage of that pot, known as Social Security benefits and at the same time, the Internal Revenue Service or IRS keeps track of the benefits for tax purposes.
The nine-digit number is recorded on a card that also features a person’s name and signature.
Not only does the number track contributions, but it is used for other things as well. When applying for a job in the United States, the applicant will need a number to prove that he or she can legally work in the U.S. That number is also used to record earnings and how much is going to the pot every time the person is paid.
A first-time visit to a doctor often includes the need for a Social Security number for insurance and billing reasons. When a person opens a checking account or a savings account, a Social Security number is often needed.
Social security numbers are extremely important and should be kept in a safe place, such as a safety deposit box. Why? Two words “identity theft”.
Over 140 million Americans are victims of it every year. Social Security identity theft happens when a dishonest person takes your social security number and uses it for nefarious reasons.
For example, a dishonest person who obtains your Social Security number can use it to apply for credit in your name.
Once they get the credit, they can rack up bills and not pay them. The bills are tracked to your name, because it’s your Social Security number, and you’re left with the responsibility of paying them. Getting out of these payments takes a lot of work and diligence and can take months if not years.
So what do you do when your Social Security number is compromised? What immediate actions should you take?
1. Report the Theft Immediately
As soon as you know that your Social Security number has been compromised report it to the Federal Trade Commission at IdentityTheft.gov and fill out a police report with your city.
2. Contact the Three Major Consumer Credit Bureaus
Contact the three major consumer credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) and get a credit freeze. This will prevent a dishonest person or persons from using your credit report when they open a bank account, apply for a loan or try to rent an apartment. In addition to getting a credit freeze, place a fraud alert with the credit reports.
3. Contact Fraud Departments
If your Social Security number has been compromised, contact that location’s fraud department. For example, you can contact the fraud department of credit card companies, banks, etc. Let them know that you are a victim of identity theft. Close or freeze your existing accounts.
4. File Your Tax Return As Soon as Possible
To stay feet ahead of the person who took your Social Security number, file your tax return as soon as possible. The FTC has warned that people who steal Social Security numbers can use the numbers to steal tax returns.
5. Ignore Calls for Non-Existent Tax Debt, Etc.
After your Social Security number is compromised, you may receive calls from scammers demanding money for back taxes or for some other debt. Ignore these calls, despite the company or organization the person claims to be from. For example, if they claim to be from the IRS.
6. Sign up with Free Identity Theft Protection
Your Social Security number has been compromised, and you’ve taken the steps to correct it and protect yourself. Now is the time to sign up with free identity theft protection from a reputable company so that this kind of theft doesn’t happen again.
After you have taken steps to take care of a Social Security number that has been compromised, how do you get a new card? Visit the U.S. Social Security Administration’s website and print out the application provided. Then visit a Social Security office to get a new card. You can also get a replacement card from Application Filing. However, you are limited to only three replacement cards in a year, and you can just get ten replacements cards during your entire lifetime.
You must prove your identity to receive a new card, and you must do it with original documents. You can present a driver’s license, a United State’s passport, or a state I.D, for examples. You will not receive the card right away, but you will receive a printout with your SS number on it. Keep in mind that the printout is only valid for a month.
The printout needs to be protected just as if it were a Social Security card. This is the time where proper means should be taken to protect your number if those steps haven’t already been made. A safe deposit box or a lockbox in your home is a great place to keep a Social Security number.
When your Social Security number is compromised, depending on the amount of damage that occurs, it could take you months and even years to clear everything up. Take the necessary steps immediately to report that you are a victim of identity theft and to get started immediately on preventing damage. Then ensure that you’re being proactive in preventing identity theft from happening again by keeping your Social Security number in secure places and signing up with reputable organizations that let you monitor what’s going on with your credit for free.