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What an ID Thief Can Do With a Social Security Number

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Identity theft has always been a problem, but issues like data breaches and a lack of online privacy have brought identity theft concerns to the top of people’s minds. It’s a pretty broad crime, encompassing several things a person can do if they get access to your PII, or personally identifiable information.

One of the worst things that can happen in a privacy breach is exposure of Social Security numbers. They’re wrapped up in most aspects of Americans’ lives — employment, medical histories, taxes, education, bank accounts and so on. The consequences of having your Social Security number end up in someone else’s hands aren’t pretty — most of them are downright terrifying.

1. Open Financial Accounts

Your Social Security number is the most important piece of personal information a bank needs when extending you credit or opening an account. With that number, the thief can get credit cards or loans, and when it comes time to repay them, they won’t, damaging your credit in the process. The missed payments are tied to your Social Security number, meaning they’ll end up on your credit report.

In some ways, that’s one of the better outcomes of identity theft — you can use your credit scores and credit reports to spot fraud and put an end to it. Unfortunately, it could take a while for your credit to recover from the damage.

2. Get Medical Care

Health insurance provider Anthem was hit by a data breach recently, and people were first concerned about exposure of medical records. Anthem says medical information wasn’t compromised — Social Security numbers were, and that poses a greater threat to your health.

Someone with your Social Security number could undergo medical treatment, effectively tainting your medical records. Inaccurate medical records could have deadly consequences, if you receive treatment based on a false history.

3. File for a Fraudulent Tax Refund

This is the big concern right now, because we’re in the thick of tax season. Last year, identity thieves stole $5.2 billion in fraudulent tax refunds from the Internal Revenue Service, and this crime is a growing threat in the wake of massive data breaches. The sooner you file your taxes, the more likely it is you’ll get to your refund before an identity thief.

You’ll know someone stole your identity if your return is rejected as a duplicate — then you get to start the process of resolving the fraud and, if necessary, getting the refund you deserve.

4. Commit Crimes

Getting your Social Security number might just be a fraction of the thief’s crimes. If the identity thief gets arrested for another crime and gives your Social Security number to law enforcement, you’ve become tangled in their criminal history.

5. Steal Your Benefits

A thief could also use your Social Security number to file for unemployment or Social Security benefits, depleting the assistance you may need to access later on.

Thieves can operate under your identity for years without discovery, and some of these crimes are very difficult to detect. One of the best things you can do is regularly check your credit reports (you can also get your free credit report summary from Credit.com, updated every month), reviewing them thoroughly for unauthorized accounts or public records not related to you. These red flags could indicate clerical errors or identity theft. Either way, you want to watch out for it and act as soon as you see something suspicious.

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  • Bob

    Anthem Data Breached so now we should stop using SSN as a Password.

    Now that 25% of all Americans data may have been stolen in
    the recent Anthem breach, I think it is time for the Social Security Number to
    stop being used as a password. Because that is how it is being used now, but I
    hope you will agree, this can’t continue with so many Americans impacted by
    this breach. We can’t change our SSN’s like a password. Perhaps it is time for
    a national ID, or maybe each SSN could have password associated with it that
    users could change this password as often as we wanted. Of course the password
    would be required to establish a new line of credit etc.

    I have found out that my kids, my wife and I, may have been
    victims of the recent security breach of Anthem Health care. With the nature of
    the information including Names, Social Security Numbers, along with Date of
    birth date it is a grievous theft. It is a theft that may haunt us for the rest
    of our life, as our identity may now be stolen, and my children now have to
    live with this.

  • John Q Adams

    I thought that when Social Security was created that Roosevelt promised that your SS# would never be used as a permanent # that would be used as a National # registry. However when I enlisted in the navy in the mid 70’s and my SS# was used as my service number I knew that that promise was a lie making it even easier for crooks to gain that information. Which proves that you cannot trust anything that the Govt. tells you!!

  • RoseLeigh

    Could someone explain how identity thieves can do anything with my SSN these days? The article talks about opening up a line of credit and getting loans, but all of that requires you to verify things like date of birth and especially drivers license number. I know because recently I tried getting a new line of credit and the person putting in my driver’s license miskeyed and I was rejected because they couldn’t verify it. They had everything else, DOB, SSN, etc. but license was wrong. Any idea how a thief could get by without my license?

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      There are many online lenders that don’t require a driver’s license number.

    • Dominique Grabbe

      With a social security card, they can file for a birth certificate, file for a new I.D. and all is lost for good. Very Dangerous.

  • Debi Price

    if someone has stolen your social security number they can do a lot of damage, but don’t they also need an id, like a drivers license as well to open accounts and other damaging stuff? or can they get an id just using your social security number, they also have my name and address is that all they need to get an id with my name?

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