Social Security scams are nothing new, although they’ve been gradually on the rise. There are many ways your Social Security Number (SSN) could get compromised. For example, it can result from an elaborate SSN fraud or a hacking attack manoeuvred by a cyber-criminal. Sometimes, it’s as simple as a physical theft of a statement you’ve thrown into the trash.
And the consequences could be detrimental. With your SSN, scammers could make unemployment claims, file fraudulent tax returns, and take out loans. They can also lure you into making unwarranted payments and use your identity to commit a host of financial frauds and other criminal acts.
Fraudulent IRS tax refunds, for instance, came to $135 million in just the first two months of 2020. That’s a staggering 800% jump from the previous year. And the Labor Department estimates fake unemployment claims to amount to more than $63 billion.
But what should you do if your SSN is stolen? Taking a deep breath and getting a grip on the situation is critical. It’s essential to assess details objectively, leaving your emotions aside.
No doubt, it could be an overwhelming predicament to be in. But there are crucial measures that could help you tackle an SSN theft effectively.
So, here’s what you should know.
1. Report the SSN theft
If you suspect unauthorized access to your SSN, you need to report the incident. This will help trigger investigations and prompt relevant authorities to monitor and prevent further suspicious activities.
So, whom should you inform?
a. Office of the Inspector General (OIG)
If you’ve got caught in an SSA imposter scam, then you can visit their OIG website and report the incident. They’ll ask for a comprehensive account of the events before launching an investigation. You can also reach them on 1-800-269-0271 during office hours.
b. Federal Trade Commission
IdentityTheft.gov allows you to report a range of identity thefts, including those involving SSNs. It can also help you with a personal recovery plan and guide you through each step of the process.
Once you’ve completed your application, don’t forget to take a printout of the identity theft report and keep it safe for your records. You can also call them on 1-877-438-4338.
Local police department
Now, before you visit the local police department, gather and document all incident details. These can include any call records and details of payments you may have made. You’ll likely need to produce the FTC identity theft report as well, together with your identification details. And once they have recorded the information, request a copy of the police report.
Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
Your stolen SSN could end up with a fraudulent tax return claim. So, it’s essential to keep the IRS informed and check for suspicious activities. And if there are any fraudulent claims made under your SSN, you can request a copy of the claim documents.
2. Minimize damage
After you have formally reported the incident to the relevant authorities, you next need to focus on minimizing the damage. Remember, identity theft could lead to dire consequences, both financially and otherwise. So, taking measures to mitigate damage is essential.
a. Inform relevant companies
If you suspect that the SSN details have been stolen, breached, or used through a particular company, then you need to contact them to discuss the next steps.
Inquire what actions they are taking to handle the situation and mitigate potential risks and damage—request progress updates on their investigation and the corrective measures they’ve taken. You may also need to change passwords and other login credentials with them.
b. Inform the credit bureaus
Alerting the three credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion—is essential to protect your credit status. You can request a credit freeze to prevent unauthorized account openings or loan applications using your credit reports.
Consider placing an extended fraud alert to ensure that lenders contact you before approving any financing facilities. It’s a free service for extra protection and is valid for seven years.
You can inform one of the credit bureaus to activate this service on behalf of all three. But you may need to submit an FTC identity theft report or a police report to start it.
Also, you can request a temporary credit freeze if you’re concerned about more grave identity-related consequences. This is another free service that will prevent anyone from accessing your credit reports.
c. Monitor any suspicious activities
If your SSN is stolen, you need to keep a close eye on any suspicious activities that may result from identity theft. Request for a credit report from the credit bureaus.
This is provided free every year. Check for any new account activities and monitor unusual changes in your credit score. If you suspect foul play, inform the credit bureau and the respective lender or creditor to investigate.
3. A few final tips
Now, if you have lost your Social Security card, you may be eligible to request a replacement. You can do this online with the Social Security Administration or by visiting their local office.
Applying for a new SSN, on the other hand, is not always so easy and could be a cumbersome process even if you qualify.
Protecting your SSN is always a better option to save yourself from all the hassles. But most importantly, it can safeguard you from financial loss and countless other dreadful consequences.
So, be on the alert for any calls or emails requesting your SSN and other personal details. Avoid responding to them and alert necessary authorities if you suspect a scam.
Safely store your Social Security card and ensure you use a shredder when discarding documents with confidential or personal details. Also, guard your devices with proper security tools and techniques. All these practices could help you evade identity scams and safeguard your details.