Identity Theft and Your Social Security Number

If someone steals your Social Security Number, you can be in for a world of hurt. Here's what to do to fix it

Do you know where your Social Security Number is... or, more to the point, who it's with?

The truth is, most of us don't even know our SSNs by heart, and we don't take them seriously enough. Most of us see an SSN primarily as a form of identification, which it is - but more significantly, it's the form of ID that the government uses to track almost every aspect of your life.

That Little Card

When someone gets a purse or wallet stolen, their first thoughts are usually for the cash and the credit cards inside. But many of us also keep a copy of our Social Security card with us, just in case... and truth be told, losing the SSN card can be more damaging than losing a dozen credit cards.

Credit cards can be cancelled fairly easily, and new ones issued in a snap. That's not so easy with a Social Security card. This is the government we're talking about, after all, and they tend to be slow and very cautious.

Plus, don't forget: with your SSN, an identity thief can build a whole new life under your name, whether they're just trying to hide under a cloned identity or because they want to buy things in your name and foist the bills off on you. They're a lot less limited than they are with existing credit cards.

What Should You Do?

If your Social Security card goes missing, report its loss immediately to the Social Security Administration.

If you think someone is using your SSN to cause credit problems for you, the SSA won't be able to help: you'll need to contact the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338).

Before you do, though, take a look at your credit report to see if there's any suspicious activity. You can get a copy free from Annual Credit Report.com.

You should also contact the IRS, just in case the miscreant has used your number to file an income tax return (so they can steal your refund) or to get a job. Call the IRS Identity Protection Unit at 1-800-908-4490.

Now What?

Expect it to take at least a couple of months for everything to get straightened out and blow over, especially if the identity thief managed to cause you credit problems. That may seem annoying long, but don't just blow it off; that could be disastrous.

Worst case scenario? Someone might steal not just your IRS tax refund, but any SSI or Social Security benefits you're due. That's why it's so crucial to report the theft of your Social Security Number immediately!

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