Social Security Theft 101: What It Is and How to Protect Yourself
In 2020, reports of government benefits fraud (which includes Social Security fraud) increased by 2,920% to become the number one type of identity theft reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).¹
Social Security theft can have lasting impacts on your finances, credit report, medical record, criminal record, ability to receive government benefits, and more.
Read on to learn more about the costs of Social Security fraud and some of the steps you can start taking immediately to better protect yourself.
What Is Social Security Theft?
A Social Security Number (SSN) is one of the most important forms of identification a person can have in the United States. It’s used for collecting social security benefits, filing taxes, accessing government services, identity verification, issuing credit, and more.
Social Security theft occurs when someone learns what your SSN is and uses it for fraudulent activities.
What Are the Consequences of Social Security Theft?
If a scammer steals your SSN, there are multiple ways they can use it for their own gain — which can negatively impact your finances, credit, and reputation. Here are the main types of social security fraud:
An identity thief with your SSN can drain your financial accounts and open new credit cards and loans in your name, racking up debt that you’ll be on the hook for. This can wreak havoc on your credit. You may not realize identity theft has occurred until you receive a call from collections or a ding on your credit report due to unpaid bills you had no knowledge of.
A fraudster can use your SSN to apply for and receive government benefits in your name such as Social Security or Unemployment. This can cause you problems down the road by affecting the amount of benefits you’re able to access when you need them (not to mention the tax ramifications).
Using your SSN, thieves may be able to get medical treatment and file medical insurance claims in your name, using up your benefits and racking up unpaid medical bills that you’re now on the hook for.
If a criminal is arrested and they provide your SSN as their own, their crime will be listed on your record, not theirs. Having a criminal record in your background check may interfere with your ability to get a job or engage in other activities.
An identity thief can use your SSN to file a fraudulent income tax return in your name and collect your tax refund. If your tax return is rejected with a notice that you’ve filed a “duplicate”, it may mean that someone has already filed a return in your name. The IRS estimates that in 2018, fraudsters cost taxpayers between $90 million and $380 million in fraudulent refunds.²
How to Protect Your Social Security Number
With such high stakes, it’s important to do what you can to protect your SSN and keep it out of the hands of identity thieves. Since data breaches mean that identity theft is never entirely preventable anymore, it’s all the more reason to take as many precautions as possible to keep your SSN private.
- Leave Your Card at Home – It’s best practice to keep your Social Security card in a secure spot in your home and not carry it around in your wallet. If a business requests it to verify your identity, ask to use an alternate form of identification such as your passport or driver’s license. If a business insists that they need your SSN, ask why they need it and how they plan to store it.
- Increase Digital and Physical Security – Never send your SSN electronically via email or SMS, and be sure to shred any bills or paper documents that contain your SSN and other personal information.
- Watch Out for Scams – With Social Security scams on the rise, you should watch out for phone calls and emails from fraudsters impersonating Social Security Administration agents.³ They may use scare tactics and claim that your SSN will be suspended if you don’t do what they say, and may demand financial payments via gift card or wire transfer.⁴ If you think you’ve been contacted by an impersonator, hang up the phone and report the encounter to the Office of the Inspector General.
- Monitor Your Identity – An identity monitoring service can also help you get timely information on whether your SSN has been compromised and can help you respond quickly to suspicious activity.
Identity Champion Protect and Complete both come with SSN monitoring, identity theft insurance, and hands-on identity restoration experts to help you restore your good name if your identity is stolen.
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