Q&A: Stolen Identity

My Social Security Number has been stolen—what should I do?

I believe that my Social Security Number has been stolen. Can the Social Security Administration place a "fraud alert" on my number like my credit card company will do if my credit card is stolen?

Unfortunately, Social Security cannot place a fraud alert on a Social Security Number (SSN). However, if you suspect that someone else is using your SSN for work, or you have received notice from the IRS of unreported taxable income that is not yours, you should report the problem to the SSA by calling 1-800-772-1213. SSA representatives will take appropriate action to ensure that your Social Security records are correct.

If your SSN has been used to charge bills or to obtain credit, Social Security cannot straighten out your credit record. However, the SSA suggests that you take the following steps:

  • Check your Social Security earnings record. You can request a Social Security Statement to verify the accuracy of the reported earnings and request correction if necessary. Details on requesting a Statement can be found at the following website: socialsecurity.gov/statement.
  • Notify the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338). The FTC also makes available an identity theft web page.
  • File an online complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov. IC3's mission is to serve as a vehicle to receive, develop, and refer criminal complaints regarding the rapidly expanding arena of cyber crime. The IC3 gives the victims of cyber crime a convenient and easy-to-use reporting mechanism that alerts authorities of suspected criminal or civil violations. Every complaint is sent to one or more law enforcement or regulatory agencies that have jurisdiction over the matter.
  • File a report with the local police or the police department where the identity theft took place, and keep a copy of the police report as proof of the crime.
  • Contact the fraud units of the three major credit-reporting bureaus (Equifax, Trans Union, and Experian). Request that fraud alerts be placed on your credit records requiring creditors to contact you before approving new credit or making any changes to an existing account. Ask for copies of your credit reports (there may be a fee).
  • Call each creditor to report fraud for any account that has been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
  • Close the credit accounts that you know or believe have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.

Congress passed the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998 (Identity Theft Act) to address the problem of identity theft. Specifically, the Act makes it a federal crime when anyone: "Knowingly transfers or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable state or local law." Violations of the Act are investigated by federal investigative agencies such as the U.S. Secret Service, the FBI, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and prosecuted by the Department of Justice.

Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations." Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

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