Wednesday, August 3, 2016

So, your Social Security Number may have been compromised! Now what?!

I want to share a story with you.

A couple of years back, I filed my taxes.  I was very eagerly awaiting a refund, and decided to call the IRS when a couple of months had passed and I had still not received anything.  I was placed on hold several times, and finally got to speak with a real human being.

Unfortunately, the woman on the other line had bad news for me.  Apparently someone else had filed a tax return using my Social Security Number!  They "couldn't tell me" who it was, or any information about them, but they COULD tell me that both returns were under investigation, and that it would take up to 8 or 9 months for me to get this all sorted out!  I never use my tax return to budget for necessary living expenses, so I was going to be fine financially, but I was still really scared!

I had no idea how my Social Security Number (SSN) had been compromised (I never carry it), or to what degree!  If anything like this ever happens to you, here are some important steps to take:

  1. Immediately check your credit report.  Request reports from:  Experian, Transunion, and Equifax.  You get one per year for free by going to:  There are other sites, but this is the free one!  Others will typically have other services attached to them that you do not need.  Make sure there isn't anything on the credit report that isn't yours.  If there is, you can dispute it!  It takes time, but it is completely doable.  If you want your credit score (the literal number), they will charge you a fee for that (usually $7 or so per agency), but the report itself is free, and all you really need.
  2. Call at least one of the credit reporting agencies and request a "90 Day Fraud Alert."  Once you have called one agency, they will automatically notify the other two for you.  This doesn't literally freeze your credit report, but if someone tries to get credit with your Social Security Number, a note will come up on the lender's screen saying that there is a "fraud alert." 
  3. If you feel really certain that someone is actually trying to get credit using your SSN, you can request a "Credit Freeze."  This will cost you around $30, but it will literally make it impossible for someone to pull you credit report in order to apply for new credit.  This does include you!  If you do this, you will also have "unfreeze" it if you want to apply for a loan of any kind.
  4. Get the IRS to issue you a tax ID number that is NOT your social security number.  They do this automatically if you've ever had a situation like mine, but there is a process by which you could request this if you believe your SSN was compromised in a different way.
In my situation, my SSN was only compromised for tax purposes.  This person was trying to file false tax returns in order to obtain money from the government.  They did not try to get credit using my number (fortunately).  I have been using an alternate number to file my taxes each year (as issued by the IRS), and I placed a 90-Day Fraud Alert on my account.  About a year later, the IRS did give my me return, so despite the stressful situation, all ended well.

There are tons of ways that your SSN could be compromised, and hopefully this never happens to you, but if you do have an experience that makes you think your SSN is at risk, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself.

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