According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), at least nine million people in theUnited Statesbecome victims of identity theft each year. Identity theft is a crime in which someone uses another person’s name, social security number, or other personal identifying information without permission to commit fraud or other types of crimes. For victims, the consequences can be devastating, including damage to their reputation and credit history. This, in turn, causes victims to be denied loans for a home, car, or education, be declined for new credit, such as credit cards, and even arrested for crimes committed by identity thieves using their name.
Although identity theft is ranked among the fastest growing crimes in theU.S., it is also one that can be prevented if consumers take proactive steps to protect their personal information. One of the most crucial pieces of personal identifying information that needs to be well protected and its usage monitored frequently for fraudulent use is a person’s social security number.
How Identity Thieves Use a Social Security Number
According to the U.S. Social Security Administration, identity thieves can use your stolen social security number in a wide range of ways, with the most common being:
- Applying for credit cards in your name. The thieves then make purchases up to the credit limit on the cards and then never pay the bills, thus ruining your good credit and leaving you with collection calls and the inability to obtain credit.
- Renting an apartment based on your personal and credit history.
- Applying for government benefits.
- Opening utility accounts, such as telephone, cell phone, electric, gas, or cable TV based on your credit information.
- Applying for a job, causing you serious tax issues because the employer reports the earned income of the identity thief to the IRS under your social security number. When you file your annual tax return, IRS records show more income than what you reported, making it look like you did not disclose all your earned income.
- Filing a tax return in your name to get a refund. If the identity thief files before you, when you submit your tax return, IRS records would show you already filed and will not accept a second return. As a result, you lose out on any tax refund owed to you.
Instances When SSN Verification Should Be Done
Social security number (SSN) verification is a valid means for discovering identity theft before any damage is done or limiting any further damage if identity theft did occur. In being proactive with a social security number verification search, you can monitor current and past activities in which your social security number was used and determine whether any unauthorized action took place. A SSN verification is particularly useful in the following instances:
- If your wallet was stolen.
- If you’re unable to find your social security card.
- If documents displaying your social security number are lost, misplaced, or not properly shredded when discarded.
- You entered your social security number on an unsecured Internet site.
- Your social security number was compromised at a government agency, employer, school, organization, or company that stored this information.
- You unknowingly gave out your social security number to someone over the phone or in an email because you thought the person legitimately worked for an institution or agency that has your records.
Being Proactive With SSN Verification
The best precaution to identity theft is to conduct SSN verifications frequently. A social security number background search provides you with key information that will enable you to:
- Validate that only your name is linked to your social security number. If the results of your SSN validation shows other names associated with your social security number, you need to investigate further to determine whether it is a clerical error or identity theft.
- Confirm that no other addresses, except your current and past residences, are associated with your social security number.
- Recognize any fraudulent or unauthorized use of your social security number.
If your SSN verification search uncovers identity theft, you should immediately file an identity theft report with your local police department and then file an ID Theft Complaint online with the Federal Trade Commission. You will also need to obtain copies of your credit reports from the three consumer credit reporting agencies – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion – and notify all your creditors and financial institutions.
The effects of identity theft can be long-lasting, but you can take proactive steps to ensure that you do not become the next victim. A social security number verification is a good first step towards identity theft prevention.