Social security

How can social security identity theft occur?

If your Social Security number is stolen, the identity thief can use the number to commit fraud. Find out how Social Security identity theft occurs.

3 min read

Social Security identity theft is one of the common identity theft crimes in the United States. If someone steals your Social Security number, they can use the number to fraudulently access services that are available to Social Security participants. Social Security identity theft may occur in several ways.

Social Security identity theft occurs when an individual gets unauthorized access to your Social Security number (SSN). They can obtain your personal information by stealing your wallet or mail, phishing attempts through email, rummaging through trash to find your personal data, or posing as an employer, government agency, or someone who legitimately requires your SSN.

What is Social Security identity theft?

Social Security identity theft occurs when someone gets unauthorized access to your Social Security Number (SSN). Identity thieves can access your SSN by stealing your purse, wallet, or mail or even sifting through trash bins looking for your personal data like Social Security statements and bank statements.

Identify thieves may also use high-tech methods that may involve gaining unauthorized access to corporate databases to steal customer information. They can also use computer technology to retrieve people's information from discarded computers and stolen hard drives. In some cases, they can hack computer systems and use information-gathering malware to infect your computer.

Typically, victims of Social Security identity theft may not be aware that their identity has been stolen or their SSN has been compromised until they start receiving emails of unexplained credit accounts on their credit report, bills or statements of accounts they do not know, letters from unfamiliar credits, unexpected tax notifications, and change of address notification that they did not request.

What happens when your Social Security identity is stolen?

When identity thieves get unauthorized access to your SSN, they can use it to commit fraudulent transactions. Here are things that can happen if your SSN is stolen:

Open credit account

When an identity thief steals your SSN, they can use this information to open new credit accounts or take loans in your name. However, these loans are never repaid, and they can damage your credit in the process. Since the lender associates the credit accounts to your SSN, the unpaid credit accounts will appear on your credit report, and they stay on the report for up to 7 years. You should check your credit report regularly for any suspicious accounts you are not familiar with, and report any transactions you did not authorize.

Get medical care

If someone steals your SSN, they could use it to get medical treatment using your health insurance coverage. This could taint your medical records, and it could result in wrong treatments if your doctor considers the false listing history in your medical records. If you are applying for disability benefits, the wrong medical records could affect your eligibility for benefits.

Tax refunds

If an identity thief steals your Social Security number, they can use your SSN to file the annual tax return before you do and claim a tax refund. If you file a tax return, and it is rejected as a duplicate, it could mean that someone else has filed your tax return fraudulently. You can prevent tax refund fraud by filing taxes early before an identity thief takes advantage of the stolen Social Security identity.

Claim benefits

An identity thief can use the stolen Social Security number to claim Social Security benefits and unemployment benefits in your name. If they have access to your My Social Security account, they can request a change of address so that they can get future communications relating to your account. They can also claim benefits in your name to deplete your resources, and if you don't realize this soon enough, they can prevent you from accessing these benefits. If you think someone else is claiming benefits in your name, you should report it to Social Security immediately.

What to do if you think you are a victim of Social Security identity theft

If you believe your Social Security Number has been stolen or compromised, you must act quickly to secure your personal information.

Here are measures you can take to protect your identity:

Report the theft to FTC and get a police report

The first action you should take is to report the Social Security identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website or call the FTC hotline at 1-877-438-4338. You can report fraud related to your SSN such as someone filing the tax return in your name, your personal data being exposed in a data breach, someone claiming benefits in your name, etc. After reporting the theft to FTC, you should file a police report in your jurisdiction.

Contact SSA

If you receive a suspicious email, text, or call about your Social Security benefits or the caller claiming to be from SSA, you should report it to the SSA Office of the Inspector General at 1-800-269-0271.

Contact IRS

If you suspect that the identity thief has used your SSN to file a tax return in your name to collect a tax refund, you should report it to the IRS. Also, if you think someone else is using your SSN for work purposes, you should report this to the IRS via the Identity Theft Central Website or by calling 1-800-908-4490.

Contact companies where your SSN was used

If the stolen SSN has been used to create fraudulent bank accounts, credit accounts, or other types of accounts in your name, you should contact each company involved. Explain to these companies that you are a victim of identity theft, and they will close the accounts to prevent further fraudulent activities.

Request a fraud alert

You can request a fraud alert if you think fraud might occur, but you don’t have any evidence. For example, if you lost your wallet or you think you fell victim to information-gathering malware, you can place a fraud alert on your credit report, which asks businesses checking your credit report to verify your identity before offering any service in your name. A fraud alert has no impact on your credit score.