How Do I Check To See If Someone Is Using My Social Security Number?
Identity theft might seem like a boogeyman story for grown-ups, a cautionary tale that has us clutching our social security cards while thinking “surely it won’t happen to me”. But the truth is it’s way more common than many think, affecting 1 in every 20 Americans.
With how common and serious this problem is, it’s important to keep your personal information, especially your Social Security Number, protected and secure. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to find out if your Social Security Number has been stolen before someone starts using it.
In this article, we will explain how to find out if your Social Security Number has been stolen, what to do if it has, and how to protect yourself in the future.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft is a type of fraudulent activity in which a criminal uses someone’s name and personal information without their permission to obtain loans or credit, impersonate them, and more.
Identity thieves often target sensitive data such as your full name, address, date of birth, credit card or bank account numbers, insurance account numbers, and Social Security Number. They obtain such details through data breaches, phishing scams, or by purchasing it on the dark web or from data brokers.
By stealing your identity, these criminals can then:
- Take out loans under your name
- Get new credit cards under your name
- Make purchases with your credit card
- Steal your tax refund
- Use your health insurance
- Open utility accounts under your name
- Create false IDs
- Use your identity to commit crimes
Though it would be great to prevent someone from using your Social Security Number, it’s often impossible to know it has been stolen until the thief starts using it. It can still be surprisingly easy to miss the signs, however, until you find yourself in a real mess.
Here are some ways you can spot if someone is using your Social Security Number:
Review your Social Security Statement
One of the clearest indicators that someone is using your Social Security Number is if the thief has begun withdrawing your Social Security account earnings.
You can check this by signing into your my Social Security account and reviewing your Social Security Statement. In case you find any suspicious behavior, contact the Social Security Administration (Disclaimer) right away for assistance.
Review your bank and credit card statements
One of the biggest motivations for identity theft is “free money.” If these criminals have your Social Security number the odds are high that, sooner or later, they will try to make purchases or transactions using your bank account and credit cards.
Check your bank and credit card transaction histories carefully for transfers or purchases that look unfamiliar. Keep in mind, these might not be outrageous sums of money.
Order a free annual credit report
Another way to check for suspicious activity is through a free credit report. Review your open lines of credit and accounts carefully to confirm everything is legitimate.
You can obtain these credit reports from all three credit reporting agencies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—with a single request to AnnualCreditReport.com. Just fill out the Annual Credit Report Request Form or call 1-877-322-8228.
Use an identity monitoring service
One of the tell-tale signs of identity theft is when the criminal starts changing your personal information to their benefit.
This can be:
- A change in address
- New court or arrest records
- New utility services
- New social media accounts
- Requests to cash checks
- Payday loan applications
Companies that specialize in identity monitoring can help you keep track of such changes and detect uses of personal data. They can also detect when your information shows up on websites identity thieves use to trade stolen data.
Use a dark web monitoring service
When sensitive data like Social Security Numbers are stolen, they often end up on the dark web for sale. Dark web monitoring will allow you to find and keep track of such data by scanning these secret websites.
While your personal information showing up on the dark web is definitely an indicator that you are in danger of identity theft, it does not necessarily tell you if someone has already started using your Social Security Number.
What to do if someone is using your Social Security Number
The more time an identity thief has access to your personal information and accounts, the harder it becomes to undo the damage. It can take hundreds of hours, over a span of six months, to undo identity theft.
If you’ve discovered (or suspect) someone is using your Social Security Number, you’ll want to take the following steps:
Contact credit bureaus
One of the first things you should do if someone is using your Social Security Number is contact the three major credit bureaus. Depending on the severity of the case, you have two options available to you:
- Put a fraud alert in your credit file. This will let the credit reporting agencies know that your information has been compromised so that they can keep an eye out for unusual activity in your name. In this case, you only need to inform one of the credit agencies.
- Freeze your credit file. This is a better option for more severe cases. It will lock your credit accounts, making it impossible to open any new ones. If you decide to go this route, you’ll have to contact each of the three credit agencies separately (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion).
TIP: If you freeze your credit and decide to open a new credit account, you will need to let the lender know that you need to unfreeze your credit file before they can run an inquiry.
File Federal Trade Commission, Social Security administation, and Internal Revenue Service reports
The next thing you’ll want to do if someone is using your Social Security Number is file reports with the Federal Trade Commission, the Social Security Administration, and the Internal Revenue Service. This will ensure the identity thief can’t file for your tax refund and, depending on the severity of the case, you may be provided with a new Social Security Number.
- Federal Trade Commission: Go to IdentityTheft.gov or call 1-877-ID-THEFT
- Social Security Administration: Go to SSA.gov
- Internal Revenue Service: Go to IRS.gov or call 1-800-908-4490
Your free credit reports might reveal fraudulent activity involving creditors. This can include credit card companies, utility companies, department stores, and other lenders.
You can contact them directly and ask for the security or fraud department. Provide information such as relevant credit accounts and explain that you have been the victim of identity theft.
Ask them to close the fraudulent accounts and send a “closed at consumer’s request” report to credit agencies.
File a police report
Criminals will often use stolen identities to commit crimes. To avoid legal troubles, file a formal police report with your local authoirities. Make sure you request a copy of the report for yourself as well.
Use an identity recovery service (optional)
Undoing identity theft can be difficult and time-consuming. While you can do it on your own, an identity recovery service might make the process quicker and easier for you. Credit and identity monitoring companies may include such recovery services as well, though it may come at an extra cost.
An identity recovery service can help you:
- Communicate with creditors and debt collectors
- Freeze or place fraud alerts on your credit file
- Help you fill out and submit all of the necessary documents
How to protect your Social Security Number in the future
Once you’ve recovered your identity (and even if it was just a false alarm), there are certain steps you can take to protect yourself from identity theft in the future:
Monitor your credit
From this point on, you should regularly check your Social Security Statement for suspicious activity. It is much, much easier to spot and quickly remedy theft when you are already on the lookout.
In a similar vein, you should also monitor your bank and credit card accounts online, as well as check your credit report, driving records, and insurance records for unusual activity.
Protect sensitive documents
Identity thieves can steal documents containing sensitive information from your wallet, trash, mailbox, or digital devices. Make sure you stay diligent and form these good habits to keep your personal information safe:
- Don’t carry your Social Security card or other sensitive documents with you. Keep them stored in a safe place that can’t be easily accessed by strangers.
- Destroy any physical documents containing your Social Security Number before you dispose of them. It’s best to use a shredder to dispose of such documents. If you don’t have one, you can also use a marker to black out your Social Security Number and any other sensitive information.
- Don’t leave mail containing your personal information in the mailbox. If you are expecting to receive any documents like this in the mail, keep an eye out and retrieve them ASAP.
- Use strong passwords to protect digital documents containing your Social Security Number. This also includes any online accounts that may hold your personal information.
Use discretion when giving out your Social Security Number
It’s important to be aware of which organizations genuinely need your Social Security Number and how they request that information. The IRS, your bank, and your workplace do need your Social Security Number to identify you, for example, while medical providers, schools, and businesses don’t.
In case you do receive requests for your Social Security Number from organizations that may not need it, don’t give it out without asking these questions:
- Why do they need your Social Security Number?
- Can they use a different form of ID?
- If they do require a Social Security Number, is it possible to provide only the last 4 digits?
- How will they protect the personal information you provide?
If they still request your Social Security Number after you’ve asked these questions, you must decide if it is worth the risk. If it is, make sure to verify any organization before sending them your personal details.
TIP: Organizations that require your Social Security Number won’t ask for it over the phone, via email, or by text. If you do receive requests for your Social Security Number in these forms, never provide it. If someone contacts you as a representative of a legitimate organization, they might be a scammer impersonating them to gain your trust.
Identity theft insurance
Even if you follow all of the best practices for protecting your Social Security Number and other sensitive personal information, identity theft is still a real risk. There were 4,145 data breaches in 2021 alone.
If you want a little extra security, consider buying identity theft insurance. Various financial institutions offer this type of insurance which can cover out-of-pocket expenses, income that you have lost, and legal fees you might have incurred as a result of identity theft.
Unfortunately, identity theft insurance usually won’t cover the money stolen by identity thieves or any resulting financial losses. They also won’t reimburse the loss if it’s already covered by homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. So make sure you find out what’s deductible and what’s covered before purchasing identity theft insurance.
Remove your personal information from the internet
Since identity thieves rely on your personal data to commit their crimes, it’s best if you clean up as much of your digital footprint as possible.
Alongside any social media, apps, email accounts, and other websites you use, your sweep should include data brokers. These companies aggregate and sell your personal information, spreading it far and wide on the internet. The information they collect includes:
- Names and aliases
- Past and current addresses
- Past and current phone numbers
- Email addresses
- Login credentials
- Social Security Numbers
- Birth and death certificates
- Court and police records
- Information about relatives
- Financial information
And much more.
Fortunately, there are laws such as California’s CCPA that protect your right to online privacy. This means that, depending on your location and local legislation, companies have to remove your personal information upon your request.
You can refer to our guide on removing your personal information from the internet for detailed, step-by-step instructions to help you clean up your digital footprint. You can also find our free opt-out guides for some of the biggest data brokers in the industry.
Incogni offers a fully automated data removal service that sends out dozens of data removal requests at a time and conducts regular, repeated data sweeps to ensure your data stays off the market.