Identity theft is on the rise. 2018 saw a 38% increase in fraud (including identity theft) reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which is the agency of the United States government that is charged with protecting consumers. Identity theft can be subdivided into several types, including financial identity theft, medical identity theft, tax-related identity theft, and more.
Social security identity theft is one of the most prevalent types of fraud. The best way to protect yourself is to learn what social security identity theft is, how it happens, and how to prevent it from happening in the first place.
Social Security Identity Theft
Social security identity theft is when someone other than you uses your social security number. A thief could use your social security number to claim your social security benefits or to avoid paying taxes.
How Does Social Security Identity Theft Happen?
It isn't difficult for a thief to find out basic information about you, including your name and date of birth. The thief can also get your social security number if you divulge it to an unsecured website, to a caller pretending to be a federal employee, or on a form for a company that doesn't take steps to protect your data. Once a thief has your social security number, they can easily commit social security identity theft.
Specifically, how social security identity theft happens depends upon the kind of theft.
To claim your social security benefits
To claim your social security benefits online, a thief would need your date of birth, social security number, and full name. They could then change your social security account's banking information so that your social security benefits go to the thief's account by way of direct deposit. The thief doesn't have to open an online account though. If they also know where you were born (easily found online), then the thief could claim your benefits over the phone by changing the banking information to their own.
To avoid paying taxes
A thief can also steal your social security number so that they don't have to pay taxes. They can use your number to manipulate their withheld taxes or to even work as an independent contractor and avoid paying withholding taxes at all. Since the thief used your social security number, the IRS may bill you for the unpaid withholding taxes connected to your identity.
How to Report Social Security Identity Theft
If you think your social security number has been stolen or that you have become the target of social security identity theft, report this in the following ways:
- Report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission at IdentityTheft.gov.
- File a police report with your local police department.
- Contact the three credit reporting bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) to place a fraud alert on your credit reports.
- Contact the IRS and fill out the Identity Theft Affidavit form at IRS.gov.
- Report a lost or stolen card to the Social Security Administration and request a new one.
Social Security Identity Theft Statistics
Fraud increased 38% between 2017 and 2018, with the primary kinds of reported fraud being identity theft, debt collection, and imposter scams (FTC.gov). As of April 2019, the FTC has declared that social security fraud is even more prevalent than IRS scams (i.e., thieves impersonating IRS officials over phone or email in an attempt to scare you into giving them your social security number and other private information). Between April 2018 and March 2019, social security scams (thieves impersonating Social Security Administration officials to gain your private data) stole $19 million from consumers.
How to Prevent Social Security Identity Theft
You aren't helpless against these threats. You can prevent social security identity theft by following these steps:
- Do not give anyone your social security number or other private or financial information unless they absolutely need it. If you have to divulge your private information, ask the company or organization how they use the information and how they will protect it.
- Do not submit your private information to unsecured websites. A secured website uses https instead of http, and the browser box next to the web address will display a lock symbol.
- Invest in an identity theft protection service, such as Identity Guard, LifeLock, or IdentityForce.
Identity Guard protects you against social security identity theft through their partnership with IBM® Watson™. IBM® Watson™ is constantly scanning all parts of the internet in search of your private information. If IBM® Watson™ does find your social security number on the dark web or in a chatroom or anywhere else it shouldn't, it will alert you. Identity Guard combines IBM® Watson™ artificial intelligence with their quick alerts to give you powerful protection against identity theft. When you purchase a protection plan through Identity Guard, you get an insurance policy that reimburses up to $1 million in stolen funds.
Norton 360 with LifeLock partners the identity protection of LifeLock with the trusted security measures of Norton. LifeLock protects every element of your digital life by detecting any mention of your social security number, account numbers, or other personal information anywhere online. All LifeLock protection plans include social security number alerts and are covered by their Million Dollar Protection. If you are affected by identity theft, LifeLock reimburses your stolen funds up to a set amount, compensates your personal expenses, and covers lawyers and experts to help you resolve the theft.
IdentityForce uses innovative technology to continuously monitor for your personal information online, including your social security number. IdentityForce keeps you safe through advanced fraud monitoring of your credit report, the dark web, court records, payday loans, social media sites, and changes of address. IdentityForce uses a smart tracker for your social security number to alert you if a suspicious name or address becomes associated with your number, which could be an early indicator of fraud. IdentityForce protection packages are all backed by a $1 million insurance policy. You can get started with IdentityForce with a 14-day free trial.
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