A Social Security Number (SSN) is arguably the most important government-issued form of identification a resident of the United States can have.
It is definitely the most valuable piece of ID that identity thieves can get their hands on, especially when the number is combined with the name and address of the rightful bearer.
Even on its own, a valid Social Security number can be sold illegally to people who otherwise can’t get one, such as undocumented workers or people trying to hide their true identities. (Learn more about how to protect your Social Security number here.)
With a stolen SSN, the thief, or the person he or she sells it to, can do almost everything a legitimate SSN holder can do – and more.
By taking a real person’s name and social security number, a thief can steal property and money from that person. If your name and social security number are used by criminals, the police will come looking for you, not the actual scammers.
“You can close a credit card if it’s compromised,” said Adam Dolby, senior manager of Alkami Technology. “But the problem is you can’t shut down your SSN.”
If you discover that your Social Security number has been stolen or otherwise misused by another person, there are several steps you should take right away. (Click here for more tips on dealing with identity theft.)
To speak to Equifax, call the customer service number at 1-888-766-0008 or visit this webpage to post a fraud report. To freeze an Equifax credit online, you must create an Equifax account, but you can do this without creating an account by calling 1-800-349-9960.
To contact Experian, call 1-888-397-3742 or go to here for a fraud report or here for a credit freeze. For TransUnion, the phone number is 1-800-680-7289; the fraud alert link is here and the credit freezing link is here†
A credit freeze can be inconvenient, but it’s the better option. With a freeze, no potential lender can access your credit file without your approval. That can be tricky if you’re planning to move, open a new bank account, buy a car, or switch phone companies, but you can simply “release” your credit and then freeze it again. The freeze lasts indefinitely.
Thanks to a 2018 law, credit freezes are now free to implement, but you’ll need to contact each of the Big Three credit reporting bureaus separately to set them up.
Fraud alerts are easier to post — the agency you post one to will contact the other two — but they aren’t as helpful. A fraud alert only asks that anyone who requests your credit file contact you first, but they don’t have to. (Learn more about the difference between a fraud alert and a credit freeze here.)
You can renew a fraud report every year (this is free). Only contact the Social Security Administration to get a replacement card or number (see below).
Tell each of the three authorities that your citizen service number has been stolen.
They give you free copies of your current credit reports. View those reports on unknown accounts and unknown inquiries from companies.
You can also call 1-800-908-4490. That prevents tax fraud thieves from filing tax returns in your name — and collecting your tax refund.
Report the identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission at: http://www.identitytheft.gov†
You can also call 1-877-IDTHEFT.
Report an identity theft to your local police.
The police report will help you clear your data and your name. The report is necessary if you want to apply for a new citizen service number.
This way your credit remains as clean as possible. The only way to get a new BSN from the government is to prove beyond a doubt that someone used the old number. Data from fraudulent accounts can provide that proof.
Report the theft of your Social Security Number to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at: http://www.ic3.gov/†
The report will be distributed to the relevant federal, state and local authorities.
The Federal Trade Commission provides a good resource on what to do in the event of identity theft on http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft†
Whether and how you can get a new citizen service number
Many stolen social security numbers are only used to find work, without harming the rightful holders of the SSN. But others are used to defraud banks, retailers, the IRS and other government agencies, which could destroy your credit.
If several years have passed since your BSN was stolen, and the problems resulting from the theft have not improved, you can request a new BSN. But before you take that step, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Getting a new social security number is not easy
You must prove that the theft of your SSN has caused you serious trouble in the form of denied home mortgages, problems with law enforcement or the IRS, or bad credit that can’t be cleaned up.
A new social security number doesn’t mean the identity theft problem will go away
The old number remains valid; you will have to keep track of it for future incidents, and government agencies or companies will still associate you with it.
A new Social Security number has a completely blank credit history
Getting credit will be difficult for a few years — unless you tie the new Social Security number to your old, corrupted number.
It is entirely up to the Social Security Administration to decide whether you can get a new number
If the agency thinks you don’t need a new one, don’t get one.
If you decide to apply for a new Social Security Number, the first step is as simple as filling out a standard SSN application form† You enter the old number on it. But be prepared to argue your case and have enough documentation to prove it.
Remember that the old Social Security number never disappears completely, even if it is inactive. The Social Security Administration never invalidates an SSN once it has been issued.