Social Security Numbers and Identity Theft

It probably goes without saying, but your social security number is extremely important. You need your SSN to apply for credit, receive government benefits, verify your identity, receive retirement income and more. Obviously, if a thief has access to your social security number, your identity can be seriously compromised.

Has Your SSN Been Stolen?

There’s a new twist on social security identity theft. If the effects weren’t so devastating, the crime could actually be considered pretty clever. Here’s how it works: Thieves are targeting the social security numbers of young children.

Most people don’t bother to check their child’s credit. After all, a minor isn’t going to apply for a credit card, rent an apartment or really make any major financial transactions. So thieves are able to steal a young person’s SSN and use it without anyone noticing.

In some cases, the victim won’t even be aware of the theft until decades later. Imagine applying to rent your first apartment only to find out your credit has been completely ruined with years of fraudulent use! Not only is this devastating to your current financial situation, it will also have a long-term impact on your financial future.

The problem is so prevalent that just this year Representative Jim Langevin introduced the Protect Children from Theft Act.

Of course, adults are still at risk of having their social security numbers stolen as well. For identity thieves, social security numbers are the ultimate piece of information – they’re like a skeleton key which can unlock a person’s entire identity.

Signs of Social Security Identity Theft

Whether you’re protecting yourself or your child, here are a few signs social security identity theft might be occurring:

  • You receive collection notices or calls about a debt in your child’s name. Obviously, a minor child will not normally be creating any debt.
  • Your child receives mail usually only applicable to an adult. This includes items like pre-approved credit card offers, parking tickets, jury duty notices and anything similar.
  • You, or your child, receive medical information and bills from unknown doctors and for unknown procedures. Many instances of ID theft are used to obtain medical care.
  • You receive a notice from the IRS confirming that your child’s tax return was recently accepted. Or, if you’re an adult, you receive a notice that your tax return was accepted even though you have yet to file.

How Can Your SSN become Compromised?

A major reason why the social security numbers of minors are being stolen is because the information is easy to obtain. Pediatricians, schools and other organizations which might have a legitimate need for your child’s SSN generally aren’t very well protected against computer break-ins.

How to Protect Your (and Your Child’s) Social Security Number

Your social security number was never originally intended to be used so often. But in many cases, your SSN is used as a default identification number. Try to limit who you give that number to. Your employer is probably okay. But the cable company or your cell phone provider? Ask them if they really need your SSN or if there’s some other number they can use instead.

This goes for your child as well. When enrolling your child in school, ask if there’s a legitimate need for the SSN to be on file. After all, most times the number is simply used for verification.

The main point is to be aware of when your social security number is being used. Too often, we give it out to whoever asks. By guarding your number closely, you’ll be able to protect the identity of both yourself and your children for years to come.

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