Identity theft is a real and serious issue in the United States. According to the FBI, it is the quickest growing crime. Your Social Security Number is one crucial component of your legal identity. Identity thieves can use it to engage in all kinds of criminal behavior and leave you to pay the price. Here are five ways criminals can use your Social Security Number:
- Committing Crimes
Identity thieves can use your Social Security Number to commit other crimes. For instance, if the criminal is ever caught and arrested for a crime, he can give the police your stolen social security card. The consequences of such an action can be devastating. You can find yourself stuck with a crime you didn’t commit that taints your criminal background checks and ruins your chances for employment. Unfortunately, clearing your name may take up to several years.
- Opening Financial Accounts
Financial institutions use your Social Security Number as the main means of acquiring information about you. If criminals acquire your Social Security number, they can use it to take out loans and open credit card accounts under your identity without ever bothering to pay up. When time for collecting payments for the accounts comes, your name will be on the line. The unpaid bills may appear on your credit score thus ruining your chances of getting a loan or another credit account later on.
- Medical Identity Theft
Medical care theft is another type of Social Security number fraud with a long-term impact. If a criminal steals your social security card, he or she can use your medical insurance and benefits to get treatment, buy medicine, or even have surgery at your expense. If the surprise medical bills don’t rattle you too much, the fraudulent medical records can actually kill you. The inaccurate information the scammers introduce in your medical records can easily lead to misdiagnosis and wrong treatments.
- Filing Fake Tax Refunds
Tax identity theft is one rising scheme. It refers to when a criminal uses your Social Security Number to file and collect fake tax refunds under your name. Unfortunately, this can rob you or delay tax refunds owed to you. If your tax refund is rejected as being duplicate, chances are that a criminal has already filed one in your name. Fortunately, you can avoid this by filing your tax early so that a would-be identity thief would have fewer opportunities for filing fake refunds before you.
- Stealing Your Benefits
Identity thieves can use your stolen Social Security Number to steal your benefits, which can prevent you from accessing the funds when you really need them. If you receive retirement benefits, a person that has stolen your Social Security Number can redirect such payments elsewhere, which means that you no longer receive them. Losing access to social security benefits can be hard to reverse and will almost always require you to prove your identity using other methods.
What Can You Do If Your Social Security Number is Stolen?
If you believe that your social security card has been stolen, here are some of the things you can do to protect yourself:
- Report It to Responsible Government Agencies
Immediately you suspect or know that your Social Security Number has been stolen and is probably being used for criminal activities, you need to report it to responsible government agencies. You can file a police report with your local jurisdiction and report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Your county or city might be unable to investigate the crime, but having a police report can be critical to helping you recover from the identity theft.
- Request a Credit Freeze with the Consumer Credit Bureaus
A credit freeze won’t affect your credit score, but it is likely to prevent lenders from accessing your credit report. It will also prevent criminals from doing many things such as renting apartments, opening new accounts, or even applying for loans. If you still wish to do any of these things, you will need to suspend your credit freeze temporarily. You can also request an extended fraud alert from the consumer credit bureaus.
- Contact Any Company You Suspect Your Social Security Number Has Been Used Fraudulently
It is also important to get in touch with any and all companies where you suspect that your Social Security Number has been used fraudulently. It is important to notify such institutions that you have been a victim of identity theft, and follow the institution’s guidance on changing all your login and password information.
- Keep Records of Your Files
Maintaining records is a very important thing to do if you are ever the victim of identity theft. When trying to mitigate the consequences of the misuse of your Social Security Number, it is advisable to maintain records of your telephone calls and correspondence as well as other documents that verify your efforts to rectify the situation. The FTC says that it is important to record the dates of all calls and correspondence. If you have a strong record of what happened, who you called on what date and what you discussed, you can reference it at any point if needed.
- Get a Replacement Card
Ultimately, you may choose to apply for a new Social Security Number from the Social Security Administration, but this is not as easy as it might sound. You will be required to prove that your Social Security Number has been used to commit crimes, that you have suffered harm, and that you have done everything you can to catch the perpetrator. Moreover, your old Social Security Number will still be valid and you can’t apply for a new Social Security Number simply to get rid of mistakes or bad credit on our credit report.
Identity theft can be quite devastating if you are the victim. As explained above, your stolen Social Security Number can be used to commit all kinds of crimes. Fortunately, you can do something about it. Just follow the information, tips, and advice provided here to take back your life from criminals that may wish to destroy it.