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If your Social Security number (SSN) has been stolen, you'll need to act quickly to reduce the damage fraudsters can commit. It's important to report the theft to the proper authorities and secure your credit and personal information. Then, you'll want to take additional measures to continue protecting your identity.
The number of data compromises in the U.S. was up 68% in 2021 from the previous year, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center. Cyberattacks in particular are becoming more common, putting SSNs and other personal information at greater risk of theft and eventual use in fraud. Here are steps you should take if your SSN and related information become compromised.
1. Report the Identity Theft to the FTC and Police
Your first action should be to report the identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and file a police report. When you visit the Social Security Administration's website, you'll be directed to the FTC website, IdentityTheft.gov, where you can report one or more of the following types of fraud related to your SSN:
- Someone filed a tax return in your name
- Someone filed for unemployment or government benefits in your name
- Someone gained access to your information
- Your information was exposed in a data breach
Next, you'll get information on next steps to take, which may include completing more forms and getting a recovery plan. For tax-related identity theft, which usually involves your SSN, you may be required to complete an identity theft affidavit, or Form 14039.
After reporting the theft to the FTC, file a police report with your local jurisdiction. While your city or county may not be able to investigate this crime right away (or at all), having a police report can serve as documentation in your identity recovery and resolution endeavors.
2. Request a Credit Freeze or Fraud Alert
A credit freeze restricts access to your credit report and helps prevent fraudsters from opening new accounts, renting apartments or applying for loans in your name. Freezing your credit will not affect your credit score, and you can unfreeze and refreeze your credit report at any time.
You'll need to freeze and unfreeze your credit with all three credit bureaus separately (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax).
If you think your SSN may have been stolen but don't have any evidence of fraud occurring, you could place a fraud alert on your credit report instead of a credit freeze. Rather than restricting access to your credit report, a fraud alert asks businesses checking your credit to verify your identity before offering credit in your name.
Placing a fraud alert with one credit bureau extends the alert to all three. It has no effect on your credit score.
3. Contact Companies Where Your Social Security Number Has Been Used Fraudulently
In the case that your information was used to create fraudulent accounts, you'll want to contact each company involved. For example, if your SSN was used to create bank accounts or credit accounts in your name, reach out to each company and explain that you're a victim of identity theft. They can then close your accounts so the identity thief can't use the accounts any longer.
If someone used your information to create fraudulent identification records, you'll need to contact all agencies involved, possibly including the IRS, Social Security Administration and your secretary of state's office, which handles cases of fraudulent identification.
More Ways to Protect Your Social Security Number
Going forward, the name of the game will be monitoring and ongoing protection. For instance, to see if your Social Security number is being used by someone else for employment purposes, review your Social Security Statement to look for suspicious activity.
Get in the habit of regularly checking your bank and credit card accounts online for suspicious activity. You should also monitor your credit report, driving records and insurance records.
Here are a few ways you can continue to protect your Social Security number:
- Don't carry your Social Security card with you.
- Don't share your SSN unless you've verified the recipient, such as a lender or insurance provider.
- Destroy and dispose of physical documents that contain your SSN.
- Protect digital documents containing your SSN by using password-protected files.
- Request free copies of your credit reports each year at AnnualCreditReport.com.
- Consider using an identity protection service such as Experian IdentityWorksSM to help keep your information safe.
- Remove your information from public websites with a privacy scan service.
The Bottom Line
Learning that you've been a victim of identity theft can be both disheartening and frustrating. Identity thieves are getting smarter each day, and the chance that your personal information will be exposed continues to increase. The good news is that you've got plenty of tools at your disposal to reduce the risk of identity theft and protect your Social Security number and other personal information.