In this article, we’ll tell you how to know if someone is using your SSN. But you’ll also want to know why SSNs are important and what to do if someone is using your SSN.
Why are SSNs Important?
SSNs, or social security numbers, are unique, 9-digit numbers issued to every U.S. citizen at birth. When someone becomes a U.S. citizen, they also receive a SSN. SSNs were originally introduced in 1936 as a way to track workers’ earnings and eligibility for benefits such as retirement and disability.
Now, SSNs are much more versatile in confirming a person’s identity. For example, you need to provide your SSN when filing your taxes, opening a bank account, or applying for credit.
And these are why SSN security is so important. They are directly associated with you and your identity. So you want to keep your SSN safe and secure to prevent anyone else from using it for any of the aforementioned purposes.
How Do SSNs Become Compromised?
Your SSN can become compromised if your wallet or purse is stolen with your personal information inside, if there is a data breach on a website where your personal information is stored, or if you’re a victim of phishing.
Phishing is when someone poses as an official or representative of a trusted government agency to dupe victims into releasing sensitive personal information. Scammers will often make threats to pressure victims into acting hastily.
Remember that the SSA will never threaten legal action for not making an immediate payment; suspend your SSN; ask you to pay with cash, gift cards, prepaid cards, or cryptocurrency; offer to move your money; or demand secrecy.
Never give your SSN to anyone over the phone. And be wary even of letters you receive in the mail. There have been instances of scammers sending official-looking documents by U.S. mail or attachments through email, text, or social media message.
If you feel like you have been contacted by a scammer, you can report the incident to the Office of the Inspector General.
Consequences of Compromised SSN
According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States. If someone gets a hold of your SSN, they can use it to get other personal information about you and in turn steal your identity.
So if you need your SSN to apply for a job, enroll in benefits, or apply for credit, so can anyone who gets access to your SSN and other personal information. Personal information can include your name, birthdate, phone number, email address, etc.
Therefore, your SSN number is the most valuable information a stranger can get access to. It is the most unique and (hopefully) secured information about you because it is directly tied to you and your identity. You wouldn’t want someone to open a bank account or line of credit in your name. Nor would you want someone to apply for government benefits in your name, especially if that means that you get denied!
Most people don’t realize that their SSN has been compromised until they try to use it. You can be denied access to certain benefits or access to a bank account or lines of credit if someone else has already used your number. Not to mention the amount of debt someone can accrue in your name….
So it is important to keep your SSN confidential. If asked to provide it, make sure you know why it is needed and how it will be used.
How to Know if Someone is Using Your SSN
So, how to know if someone is using your SSN before you start getting debt collection calls? There are a number of actions you can take to investigate any suspicions you might have.
How to Know if Someone is Using Your SSN for Employment
If you suspect someone is using your SSN, either on purpose or by accident, you should contact the SSA. They can review your earnings with you to verify that everything is correct. All adults at least 18 years old also have a Social Security Statement. This is a record where you can review your earnings.
How to Verify SSNs as an Employer
As an employer, you can help mitigate identity theft and SSN data mistakes. If you have a few hundred employee SSNs you need to verify in a month, you can use an SSN validator to find out whether an SSN is valid or invalid and whether it belongs to a living or deceased person.
If you have more than a few hundred SSNs to verify in a month, you can use the SSA’s Consent Based Social Security Number Verification (CBSV) service. This service can support large volumes of data. There is a $5,000 enrollment fee, and you must prove that you have a valid reason for using the service. For example, you must have an EIN.
Similarly, to use Searchbug’s SSN validator, you need to sign up for a business account with SSN verification access. These services are not designed to provide just anyone with this information. The purpose is to help employers verify the identities of their employees and correctly report wages on W-2 forms.
How to Know if Someone is Using Your SSN to Open Credit
You’ll know if someone is using your SSN to open credit if you get unexpectedly denied or start getting debt collection calls or notices. But you should be regularly monitoring your own credit report for suspicious activity. You can get free credit reports at Annualcreditreport.com.
You can also place a freeze on your credit with the three major credit bureaus. This way, you will be notified if someone tries to open an account in your name.
How to Know if Someone is Using Your SSN if You Don’t Know Your SSN
There is a chance you don’t even know your own SSN. Maybe you lost your social security card or just haven’t used it in a while, if ever. Fortunately, you can request this information for free from the SSA! It’s important to know that the SSA offers SSN services for free, so be wary of websites that request payment.
You can request a copy of a lost, stolen, or damaged card; update or correct your personal information; or even request an SSN for the first time. Just be prepared to prove your identity and U.S. citizenship with a birth certificate, passport, drivers license, certificate of citizenship or similar document.
What to Do if Someone is Using Your SSN
Unfortunately, the SSA won’t be able to help you if you are a victim of identity theft. If someone has misused your SSN to create credit in your name, you should report the incident to IdentityTheft.gov or call 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338) to get a recovery plan.
You should also file an online complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). The IC3 allows victims of cybercrimes to alert authorities of suspected criminal or civil violations.
You might also run into tax issues if someone uses your SSN to file a tax return and receive your tax refund. Or, if someone uses your SSN to gain employment, and that employer reports the earned income to the IRS, you could be penalized for not reporting all income earned under your SSN. In this case, you’ll want to contact the IRS or call 1-800-908-4490.
If you can prove misuse of your SSN, you can request a new one. But keep in mind that this won’t fix everything right away. Any government agency that has a record of activity made using your SSN that wasn’t you will still have that information on file. Furthermore, you will have to start building credit all over again with the new number.
If you didn’t know before, your SSN should be treated as the most sensitive information about you. If someone gets a hold of it, they can steal your identity and wreak havoc under your name. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to protect yourself.
As an employer, it is also your responsibility to use SSN data ethically. That means requesting it only when absolutely necessary, keeping it confidential, and using an SSN validator to ensure your employees are who they say they are.
We’ve told you how to know if someone is using your SSN so that you can avoid the many problems associated with identity theft. But it is still up to you to keep this information secure and to avoid scams.