Do You Think Scammers Have Your SSN?
Your Social Security number (SSN) is a critical — and private — piece of your identity. If scammers get ahold of it, they can steal your identity, open bank accounts in your name, or, as in the case of one Baltimore man, take out unemployment benefits in your name [*].
Unfortunately, even if you do everything you can to protect your SSN, the truth is that [*]:
Due to the frequency of SSN data breaches, many cybersecurity experts say you should assume that every SSN has already been leaked online.
What makes SSN theft so dangerous is that it’s so hard to detect — until it’s too late. So, how do you know if a cybercriminal is using your Social Security number? And what should you do if you’re a victim?
In this guide, we’ll run through the biggest warning signs that your SSN is being fraudulently used, as well as what you can do to shut down scammers and protect your identity.
How To Check If Someone Is Using Your Social Security Number
- Review your credit report for fraudulent activity
- Use an SSN monitoring service to alert you about breaches
- Review your Social Security statement
- Go through your junk mail
- Look out for strange calls from debt collectors
- Follow up on notices from the IRS and other government agencies
- Scrutinize your bank statements
- Don’t ignore rejected applications for credit or loans
- Protect your taxes and tax account
- Monitor the Dark Web for your personal information
Social Security identity theft can have significant consequences for your finances and credit score. If scammers have your SSN, you’ll want to find out as quickly as possible so you can shut down their schemes.
Here are 10 ways to help determine if someone is fraudulently using your Social Security number:
1. Review your credit report for fraudulent activity
In 2022 alone, there were over 57,000 reports of fraud related to government documents, including SSNs [*].
Most scammers use stolen SSNs to open new bank accounts and credit cards or take out loans in their victims’ names. One of the only places you can check for this type of financial fraud is on your credit report.
Until the end of 2023, Americans have access to a weekly free report from each of the three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Just visit AnnualCreditReport.com to request your free credit reports.
How to check your credit reports for signs of SSN fraud:
- Review your personal information. Scammers may change your contact information on your credit file to prevent you from receiving fraud alerts or other warning signs. Make sure that each credit bureau lists your current phone number and address, as well as your correct name, date of birth, and SSN.
- Check your credit history for unfamiliar accounts. Review the statuses of your accounts to ensure that no tampering has occurred.
- Look for unrecognized hard inquiries. Hard inquiries come from credit applications and can affect your credit score. Make sure you recognize each hard inquiry on your credit report.
2. Use an SSN monitoring service to alert you about breaches
While identity thieves need just minutes to set up an account in your name and max it out, it can take you six months or longer to recover your accounts and credit [*]. An SSN monitoring service informs you right away that suspicious activity is taking place, allowing you to stop fraud before it causes damage.\
Knowing your SSN was leaked in a data breach can help you secure your accounts before scammers have a chance to access them.
What to prioritize in SSN monitoring services:
- Look for information and account tracking. Consider a service that scans your accounts and the internet for any hint of misuse. For example, Aura's AI-powered service goes through billions of data points in its monitoring process [*].
- Opt for immediate alerts. If someone uses your SSN to create a new account or credit file in your name, you need to know about it right away. Aura sends you alerts in near real-time, giving you the opportunity to shut down fraudsters quickly.
- Get access to 24/7 support. Once an alert has been triggered, you want immediate access to a support team that can walk you through the remediation process, such as Aura’s dedicated White Glove Fraud Resolution Specialists.
💡 Related: What Can Scammers Do With Your SSN? →
3. Review your Social Security statement
Your Social Security statement details your earnings record and your Social Security benefits. If scammers have used your SSN to gain illegal employment or take out benefits in your name, it will show up here.
Your statement is provided by the Social Security Administration (SSA), and is available by mail or via your my Social Security account [*].
How to use your Social Security account to identify fraud:
- Create an online SSA account. Sign up for an online my Social Security account to get alerts about any suspicious activity[*]. You can also put an eServices block on the account to stop anyone from changing the information online.
- Verify your personal information. Your statement should list your name and date of birth. If wrong, these details could indicate that someone has manipulated your information or there's been a mixup.
- Double-check your earnings and taxes paid. Fraudsters may use stolen SSNs to evade or misrepresent their taxes. Consider any discrepancies in your statement accounts as a hint.
4. Go through your junk mail
When scammers open new accounts in your name, you might not find out until you receive a bill. Because we all tend to get so much junk mail, signs of identity theft in your mail could go unnoticed if you're not keeping a close eye on it.
How to monitor your junk mail for SSN fraud:
- Look for unfamiliar bills. Don't just throw out letters from unfamiliar companies. Strange bills in your name (or someone else's) that are sent to your address could signal identity theft. In both cases, you may want to call the company issuing the mail.
- Watch for credit offers. If someone has set up an account or filed a credit application in your name, it could initiate a series of new credit offers and financial products. Also, investigate any communications from a bank other than your own.
- Opt out of junk mail. By reducing the amount of junk mail you receive, you decrease the chances of fraud slipping under your radar. Visit optoutprescreen.com (run by the three major credit bureaus), or call 1-888-5-OPT-OUT to opt out of prescreened credit and insurance offers. You can also visit dmachoice.org to manage offers sent via direct mail.
💡 Related: Someone Opened a Bank Account In My Name — Help! →
5. Look out for strange calls from debt collectors
Getting an unexpected call from a debt collector can be a frightening experience, but you must avoid making bad decisions under pressure. A call for a past-due payment could be a major identity theft red flag, or it could be a debt collector scam in the making.
What to look for in debt collector calls:
- Watch out for scams. While debt collector calls may be legitimate, you should never provide callers with any information or payments upfront. Scammers may pose as debt collectors to pressure you into giving them information or paying debts that aren't yours.
- Validate the debt. Legitimate debt collectors typically need to provide a validation notice [*], which highlights key information about the debt collector and debt owed. Request a validation notice, as you will need the information to fight the debt.
- Dispute the debt. If someone has accumulated debt in your name, you can dispute it. To do so, you need to send a credit dispute letter — including the account number, billing statement, and any proof you have of the fraud — to clear your name.
6. Follow up on notices from the IRS and other government agencies
An unexpected letter from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or another government agency might mean that someone has been using your SSN. If scammers use your SSN to create an account in your name, file a tax return, or misappropriate your health insurance, you could receive a notification.
How to respond to government notices:
- Flagged tax return. If the IRS flags a tax return in your name as suspicious, it will notify you before it processes the return [*]. You can then contact the IRS and inform them of the fraud so they can start an investigation.
- Review your Medicare claims. Look through your online account, Medicare Summary Notice, or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), and verify all claims [*]. If you see a fraudulent claim, submit a complaint to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Inspector General [*].
💡 Related: How To Protect Yourself Against Tax Identity Theft →
7. Scrutinize your bank statements
Scammers may use your SSN in combination with other personal information to access your bank accounts. If a fraudster has been meddling with your financial accounts and finances, your bank statements might be the first clue that tips you off.
How to check your bank statements for signs of SSN fraud:
- Unfamiliar withdrawals. Depending on your bank, your online transaction history may not provide specific details of individual cash withdrawals and transfers. If you spot suspicious activity, call the bank directly to explore it.
- New subscriptions or memberships. Take a look through the charges on your bank statement regularly to ensure that fraudsters haven't set up an account in your name. Most banks have a grace period during which disputed fraudulent charges can be reversed easily.
8. Don’t ignore rejected applications for credit or loans
Rejected applications for loans and lines of credit from financial institutions and other lenders could indicate that someone has been damaging your credit without you knowing. Because of an SSN fraudster, your credit may be over extended or in default.
How to respond to rejected credit applications:
- Call for clarification. Credit lenders must provide reasoning for rejected applications. While this typically comes in the form of a letter after a week or two, you can’t afford to wait that long in the case of fraud. Instead, call and ask for a brief explanation of the rejection.
- Dispute the fraudulent credit. Dispute the credit in writing with each of the three major credit bureaus, providing as much detail and evidence as possible [*]. You can also dispute the credit with the organization that reported it. Contact them and ask how they handle disputes related to fraud.
9. Protect your taxes and tax account
Many fraud victims get a rude awakening when they file their tax return and it gets rejected because of a duplicate filing. Since the IRS uses SSN numbers to verify identities, a stolen card or number could allow fraudsters into your tax account. While this alerts you to SSN fraud, it can take months to clear up.
How to use your tax account to identify SSN fraud:
- Get an Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN). A unique six-digit number known only to you and the IRS, an IP PIN stops fraudsters from accessing your tax account and filing a return in your name. Confirmed identity theft victims must have an IP PIN. You can also register for one online [*].
- File your taxes early. By filing your taxes early, you give scammers less time to take advantage of you. Once you file, the IRS locks your account and flags any subsequent filings [*]. If someone does try to file after you, the IRS will notify you and investigate.
10. Monitor the Dark Web for your personal information
Cybercriminals use the Dark Web to buy and sell illicit goods and data, including SSNs. Since these numbers on their own don't offer much value, fraudsters usually buy them as part of a package of personally identifiable information (PII) known as “Fullz.” In fact, scammers can buy American “Fullz” with SSNs on the Dark Web for as little as $8 [*].
How to monitor the Dark Web for signs of SSN fraud:
- Try a free Dark Web Scanner. Many services offer free Dark Web scanning tools, including Aura’s leaked password scanner, Identity Guard's Dark Web scanner, and HaveIBeenPwned. These tools will tell you if your login information was leaked in a breach, and, if so, in which one and when it occurred.
- Sign up for a Dark Web monitoring service. For more detailed information and specifics about SSN leaks, use a 24/7 Dark Web monitoring service. For example, Aura constantly scans the Dark Web for your SSN and notifies you if anything suspicious is detected.
💡 Related: How To Read a Credit Report (And Check For Fraud) →
Is Someone Using Your SSN? Here’s What To Do!
There's no time to waste if you notice that someone is using your SSN.
Here's what you can do to protect yourself:
- Freeze your credit with all three bureaus. By freezing your credit, you prevent scammers from using your SSN to take out loans or open credit cards in your name. You need to initiate a credit freeze with each of the three credit reporting agencies individually — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
- Document all instances of fraud that you see on your credit report or bank statements. You'll need a record of evidence for all fraudulent activity, such as unrecognized credit card account and bank account numbers, plus unfamiliar hard inquiries and changes to your information.
- File an official identity theft report with the FTC. Visit IdentityTheft.gov and file a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This will trigger an investigation and give you access to an individualized recovery plan.
- Contact your local law enforcement. Call or visit your local police department and file a police report. You may need to provide a copy of your FTC report to start the process, along with any evidence you collected.
- Reach out to the fraud department at all impacted companies and agencies. If the scammers have created accounts or made fraudulent charges in your name, let the affected companies know. They may be able to close accounts and reverse charges without further intervention.
- Claim your my Social Security account. Access your Social Security account on the Social Security Administration (SSA) website. This prevents fraudsters from claiming your account and doing further damage.
- “Self Lock” your SSN by using the myE-Verify feature on the E-Verify website. This feature can help prevent anyone else from using your SSN for employment-related fraud. When employers check a locked SSN on the E-Verify site, it will send an alert signaling potential fraud.
- Submit a Social Security fraud report [*]. Reporting fraud with the SSA's Office of the Inspector General will launch an investigation. Provide as much information and evidence as possible. You can submit a report at oig.ssa.gov/report/ or by calling 1-800-269-0271.
- Consider signing up for SSN monitoring and identity theft protection. For many reasons, fraud victims have increased odds of falling victim to fraud again in the future. Identity theft protection monitors your SSN and other personal information for signs of fraud, and alerts you in near real-time if you’re at risk.
The bottom line: Using a compromised SSN is one of the easiest ways for scammers to make you a victim of identity theft. If you think someone is using your SSN, or that it’s been leaked or stolen, act quickly to protect yourself.
Can You Change Your SSN If It’s Been Stolen?
For example, you may lose the connection to your credit history, which could have financial repercussions for you moving forward. Only in rare instances can you qualify for a new number, including:
- Someone else has the same SSN. Often the result of a clerical error, duplicate numbers must be changed.
- A family member has a sequential number. This can cause reporting problems and may be changed.
- A religious objection to certain numbers or sequences. Written support from your religious group must accompany your formal objection.
- Your SSN causes you danger or harassment. If someone uses your number to threaten harm against you, you may change your SSN.
- You incur ongoing damages from ID theft. If you have tried to solve the problem but continue to suffer from a stolen SSN, you may change your number.
If you meet the eligibility requirements for a new number and wish to make a change, reach out to your local field office and set up an appointment.
The Bottom Line: Protect Your SSN From Scammers
If every SSN has already been leaked, the time to monitor your number for fraudulent use is now.
While the steps provided above can alert you to any wrongdoing, you can also deploy preventative strategies to limit who has access to your personal information.
Consider taking the following measures to protect your SSN:
- Question why anyone would need your SSN — even on applications. Use discretion when signing up for services, accounts, or even loans. Ask for an alternative and less sensitive identifier instead, such as your driver’s license number.
- Don’t give out your SSN over the phone or via suspicious emails. Never give your SSN to anyone you can't verify. Scammers can spoof email addresses, phone numbers, and even voices.
- Keep your Social Security card in a safe place at home. Consider putting your Social Security card somewhere secure in your house, which will prevent accidental loss and theft.
- Monitor your SSN and other sensitive data for fraud. You can keep tabs on your SSN and other data yourself or use an identity theft protection service to do the heavy lifting for you.
- Shred mail and documents containing sensitive information. You never know who's looking at your trash when it leaves your house. Before disposing of sensitive documents, shred or burn them.
- Secure your online accounts against hackers. If you're part of the 70% of people who reuse passwords, hackers can access multiple accounts after a single break-in. Keep hackers out by strengthening your social media and online passwords and enabling multi-factor authentication (MFA).
For complete protection, consider signing up for Aura.
Aura monitors and protects your SSN, personal data, financial information, credit, online accounts, and more. If anything suspicious is found, you’ll be alerted in near real-time with the industry’s fastest fraud alerts. Plus, every Aura plan comes with AI-powered digital security tools, 24/7 White Glove Fraud Resolution support, and $1 million in identity theft insurance.