Did You Accidentally Give Your Social Security Number to a Scammer?
When Machel Andersen answered the phone, the last thing she expected to hear was that her Social Security number (SSN) had been used by criminals to open 77 illegal bank accounts in Texas [*].
But as unbelievable as the claim was, what’s even more surprising was how Machel was then convinced to transfer her life’s savings — more than $150,000 — to an offshore account as a way to “protect” her assets.
How could she fall for this scam? The criminals had one critical piece of information that made Machel trust them: Her Social Security number.
Scammers know that your Social Security number is often the key that unlocks your financial accounts and identity. With your SSN, they can open new bank accounts, take out loans in your name, or trick you with even more sophisticated scams.
That’s why fraudsters spend so much time finding new ways to get victims’ SSNs. Whether it’s through a phishing attack, data breach, or by stealing your physical Social Security card, scammers will go to great lengths to obtain your SSN.
If you’ve given up your SSN or think it’s been compromised, you need to act quickly. Here’s what to do if you gave your Social Security number to a scammer.
How To Check if Someone Is Using Your SSN
Unfortunately, there isn’t a straightforward way to know for sure if a criminal is using your Social Security number. Typically, you won’t know that your SSN is compromised until a criminal actually uses it.
Even then, it can be hard to see the signs of SSN fraud. Luckily, there are several indicators of SSN fraud that can help you catch the criminals before they do too much damage.
Here are some common warning signs of SSN theft:
- You’re turned down for credit. When you apply for credit, you’re turned down even though you normally have a sound credit report.
- Strange calls from creditors. You start to get calls from unknown creditors claiming missed payments for items you haven’t bought or loans you haven’t applied for.
- Mail in someone else’s name. You receive mail in someone else’s name, especially for purchases or memberships you didn’t authorize.
- New cards in the mail. You receive new debit or credit cards in the mail that you didn’t request.
- Traffic tickets and warrants that you didn’t receive. You get traffic tickets from states you’ve never been to, or discover warrants for your arrest that you don’t know anything about. These can be signs that a criminal has gotten a driver’s license using your name and SSN.
- Personal information is available online. You discover that your personal information was leaked in a data breach and is available to scammers online.
- Suspicious changes on your statements. You see payments on your bank statements for subscriptions or memberships you didn’t take out, which may indicate someone is opening new accounts in your name.
- Unexpected bank withdrawals. You notice withdrawals on your bank statements that you didn’t make.
- Medical bills for services that you never requested. You’re sent medical bills for services you didn’t use or are informed by your medical insurance provider that you’ve reached the maximum benefit for your plan.
- Proof of employment for a different job. You’re mailed W-2s for businesses where you’ve never worked.
- Missing mail. You stop receiving bank statements or invoices that you normally get. This change could be an indication that someone has stolen your SSN.
Don’t Get Scammed! How To Protect Your SSN From Scammers
Your Social Security number is the key that gives scammers access to your identity, finances, and more. If scammers have access to it, they can do all sorts of damage — from accessing your bank account to filing fake tax returns in your name.
Here’s what you can do to protect your SSN from scammers:
- Limit where (and with whom) you share your SSN. The more people that have your SSN on file, the greater the chance that scammers access it through a data breach. Always question why a company or organization needs your SSN. Ask them how they’ll store it. If you’re at all unsure, find a different piece of id to give them.
- Regularly check your credit report and bank statements. Scammers are almost always after your financial accounts. Check for the warning signs of identity theft — such as strange charges on your bank statement or accounts you don’t recognize. An identity theft protection service like Aura can monitor your credit and statements for you and alert you to any signs of fraud.
- Consider signing up for identity theft protection. Aura’s top-rated identity theft protection monitors all of your most sensitive personal information, online accounts, and finances for signs of fraud. If a scammer tries to access your accounts or finances, Aura can help you take action before it’s too late. Try Aura’s 14-day free trial for immediate protection while you’re most vulnerable.
What Can Scammers Do With Your SSN?
Because your SSN is a unique identifier, it’s used in some of your most important transactions — for example, opening new bank accounts, taking out credit cards, or filling your taxes.
This means that with your SSN, scammers can fraudulently do almost anything you can do with your number — especially if they have other information, such as your address, phone number, driver’s license, or Medicare number.
Unfortunately, if you have given your SSN to a scammer, the damage may already be done. Once scammers have your SSN, they could:
Get credit cards in your name
A common Social Security scam is to use a stolen SSN to open new credit card accounts in the victim’s name. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in 2021 alone, more than 360,000 new credit card accounts were fraudulently opened [*].
Once scammers have credit card numbers attached to your name, they can rack up debt and ruin your credit score.
Open new bank or financial accounts
Scammers who have your SSN can also open new bank or financial accounts in your name. Often, it doesn’t take much information to open an account; your name, address, and SSN can be all that’s needed.
Scammers often open new accounts under a stolen SSN so that they can transfer money from your legitimate accounts into these new accounts — or max out credit lines and cash advances. They can also use these types of accounts to launder money.
Claim your tax refund
Scammers can use your SSN to file a fake tax return that claims tax refunds.
According to the U.S. Stolen Identity Refund Fraud (SIRF) Enforcement, these criminals often file fraudulent returns electronically and early in the tax season [*]. As a result, the false returns are processed before victims send in their actual tax filings.
Obtain medical care and use up your health benefits
Criminals who have your SSN can even obtain medical care under your name or steal your health benefits. Even worse, the scammer’s medical information gets mixed up with your actual information — which could cause you to receive inadequate health care and lead to potentially dangerous medical situations.
Get a driver’s license in your name and commit crimes
With just your SSN, address, name, and date of birth, a fraudster can get a driver’s license in your name. This could lead to even worse types of identity theft, such as criminal identity theft — when scammers commit crimes and give the police your name instead of their own.
Drain your existing bank accounts
A scammer can also use your stolen Social Security number to uncover your bank account number and steal your money.
Some identity thieves may slowly transfer money out of your accounts over time, or they may transfer all of your money out at once. Additionally, some scammers have started using apps like Zelle as a means to transfer money out of illegally accessed accounts.
Get loans in your name
Identity thieves can also use your SSN to take out a loan in your name, receive the money, and never pay it back. As a result, you may see a steep drop in your credit score and struggle to obtain future loans, rent an apartment, or seek employment opportunities.
💡 Related: How To Protect Your Bank Account From Identity Theft →
Open utility accounts
Before allowing use of their services, most utility companies require a prospective customer to provide an SSN so that they can check the customer’s credit history.
Once scammers have your SSN, they can use it to open various utility services under your name — but for their personal use. In many cases, victims of SSN theft don’t realize this has happened until they receive notices for past due payments.
Steal unemployment benefits
Unemployment Insurance and other federal and state benefits are all connected to your Social Security number. Scammers will use a stolen SSN to file false unemployment claims and collect the benefits without the victim’s knowledge.
Many people discover the false filings when their state unemployment benefits office or their employer receives a notice that a claim was filed — even though they didn’t place one. Alternatively, some people learn of the fraud when they receive an IRS Form 1099-G.
Does a Scammer Have Your Social Security Number? Do This!
- Check your credit report for signs of fraud
- Freeze your credit as soon as possible
- Report the scam to the FTC and law enforcement
- Report the theft to the IRS
- Submit a Social Security fraud report
- Contact companies where your SSN was fraudulently used
It’s important to act quickly if you’re concerned that your Social Security number has been stolen. The faster you can confirm the theft and act, the better chance you have of minimizing the damage and consequences.
Here are six steps to complete to minimize fraud damage if you’ve accidentally given your Social Security number to a scammer.
1. Check your credit report for signs of fraud
Most criminals use stolen SSNs for financial fraud. So, your credit reports will often reveal if your number has been compromised or your identity was stolen.
You can get a free copy of your credit report from all three credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Look for unfamiliar or suspicious transactions, such as:
- New accounts
- Hard credit inquiries you didn’t request
- Modifications to your existing accounts or personal information
- Any records that you think are inaccurate or fraudulent
If you see an error, follow up with the financial institution to determine whether it was a clerical error or potentially related to SSN or identity theft.
2. Freeze your credit as soon as possible
A credit freeze stops creditors, credit card companies, and potential lenders from extending new credit or loans in your name. This is one of the best ways you can shut scammers out of your credit.
To freeze your credit, you’ll need to contact each credit bureau individually — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — and request a freeze. You’ll be asked to provide personal information, and will then be given a unique PIN that you can use to “thaw” and refreeze your credit file.
Another option is to use a credit lock. A credit lock prevents anyone from accessing your credit file. Locks are usually offered as special features by the credit bureaus — however, you can automatically lock and unlock your credit file with a single tap using Aura.
3. Report the scam to the FTC and the police
If you know your SSN has been stolen, you’ll want to file a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at IdentityTheft.gov. The FTC will also provide a custom recovery plan to help you deal with other dangers of identity theft and fraud.
For example, you can use your FTC report to prove to businesses that you are a victim of identity theft and that you shouldn’t be liable for fraudulent purchases.
In some cases, you’ll also want to file a police report for identity theft. Contact your local police if you have any information about who stole your identity or if you think you could be in danger.
💡 Related: Victim of Fraud? Here’s Your Recovery Checklist →
4. Report the theft to the IRS
If you believe your SSN was stolen, you’ll want to call the Internal Revenue Service’s Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1 (800) 908-4490. This step helps you secure your tax account and prevent criminals from submitting a tax return in your name.
You may also want to complete the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit if they request it.
5. Submit a Social Security fraud report
Social Security identity theft can also be reported to the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Office of the Inspector General (OIG).
Gather as much information as you can before calling them at 1-800-269-0271 or making a report online. You’ll want to be able to describe the fraud, provide a location if applicable, and explain how the fraud was committed.
6. Contact companies where your SSN was fraudulently used
Contact any company, lender, or government agency where you know your SSN was fraudulently used. Ask to speak to their fraud department and explain the situation. They may ask for your FTC report as proof that your identity was stolen.
Ask them to close or freeze any fraudulent accounts (or valid accounts to which the criminals have access). You should also consider contacting the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and your health insurer to inform them of the crime.
Should You Get a New SSN if Yours Was Stolen?
Your Social Security number is one of the few things that (most likely) doesn’t change during your lifetime. The process for getting a new SSN is not easy, and is only possible in very specific circumstances.
For example, you will have to prove that your current SSN is causing you serious hardships, such as continued identity theft or threats of physical harm.
Plus, getting a new SSN won’t make the old one disappear. Government agencies and private businesses including banks will still have records of you filed under your old number, which can create headaches down the road.
If you do want to apply for a new SSN, you’ll first need to complete an SSN application form and provide documentation supporting why you need a new number.
The Bottom Line: Protect Your SSN From Scammers
Your SSN is one of your most important personal identifiers; and, for this reason, it can be a goldmine for scammers, leading to months — if not years — of harrowing consequences for you.
Protect your SSN as much as possible and don't ignore the telltale signs of a Social Security scam call. For added security, consider signing up for Aura’s all-in-one identity theft solution.
With Aura, you get:
- SSN and identity monitoring. Aura scans the internet, public databases, the Dark Web, and more to see if scammers are using your SSN or other personally identifiable information (PII).
- Credit monitoring and fraud alerts. Aura constantly monitors your financial accounts for suspicious activity. You’ll get alerts in near-real time of any potential fraud.
- Child SSN monitoring. Criminals often seek out children’s SSNs — ideal targets for schemes because they offer blank slates (and clean credit histories) that can go unchecked for years. Aura monitors your child’s personal information to make sure no one is fraudulently using it.
- 24/7 U.S.-based fraud resolution specialists. If you’ve accidentally given your SSN to a scammer and they use it for fraud, Aura’s team of specialists will help walk you through a recovery plan.
- $1,000,000 in identity theft insurance. If the worst should happen, every adult member of an Aura plan is covered by a $1,000,000 insurance policy for eligible losses due to identity theft.