We all know how important the Social Security Number (SSN) is for citizens in America, and hence it should be kept safe and secured. But there are possibilities of an SSN to fall into the hands of fraudsters or wrong owners, and it is indeed risky. In this post, I will be showing you how to conduct a Social Security Number background check, so as to determine if yours has been compromised. Read every single line in this article to know what SSN is all about and why it should be kept safe.
The introduction and wide use of networked computer systems and cloud storage have made life easier – from easy usage of credit cards all over the world to fast access to that document you were editing earlier. However, it is also important for you to note that the networked world has some real dangers too. One of the disadvantaged aspects of networking is the spectacular rise in identity theft.
Identity theft is a crime that targets modern citizen’s wealth, employment, social services, and so on. Our identity, especially the electronically encoded identity that serves as the gateway to bank accounts, our home security systems, our email, and network resources, can be stolen by fraudsters and used for crimes. This is why it is important to carry out a Social Security Number background check once you noticed some signs which I will reveal later as you read on.
An identity thief might use part of your identity to commit acts of fraud and light scams. Such thieves can even drain your bank accounts, destroy your credit rating, or wipe out your hard-earned retirement benefits. Identity theft is a crime that the US takes seriously. In 2018, more than 60 million Americans reported that they were victims of identity theft.
As you are making use of the internet today, it is important to secure your most personal information by using a variety of secret questions, identifiers, security codes, and passwords. I am sure you have a Facebook user ID and password, a banking user ID and password, and email user ID and password, and one other important thing that evert American possesses is a Social Security Number.
The Social Security Number (SSN)
The Social Security Number is a relic of the distant past, in computer terms. When the Social Security system was created in 1935, electronic computers were still more or less a pipe dream. Mechanical adding machines were the “mainframes” of the day, and the Social Security Number assigned to American citizens was of a similar old-school sensibility.
The Secret Meaning of Your Social Security Number
Social Security Numbers are a series of three digits, followed by two digits, followed by four digits – and the various digit combinations are meaningful. That is, Social Security Numbers did not start out at 000-00-0001 and work up to 999-99-9999; instead, each section of the number has its own significance. In order to understand why internet criminals are so interested in stealing these digits, you need to know how the SSN works. Let me show you what these nine digits mean.
The First Three Digits of Your Social Security Number
The first three digits are the “Area Number”. Just as the area code of your phone number places your geographical origin, Area Numbers represent where in the United States the person holding the Social Security Number was either born or received their card. Numbers start small in the eastern part of the United States and go up as you head west. There is no strict accounting for the regions and number assignments; the Area Number is an artifact of a pre-computer age when sorting Social Security files was made much simpler by breaking them down by geographical area first.
The Second Two Digits of Your Social Security Number
The middle two digits are the “Group Number”. Group Numbers are assigned as Social Security Numbers are handed out. The Group Numbers are not assigned in a particularly rational order, however. First, the odd numbers from 01 to 09 are issued. Then when those are full, the even numbers from 10 to 98 are used. Once 98 is full, the even numbers from 02 to 08 are issued, and finally, the odd numbers from 11 to 99 are used. The Social Security Administration claims that this was done for “administrative reasons”.
The Last Four Digits of Your Social Security Number
Finally, the last four digits of the number are the “Serial Number”. Serial Numbers start at 0001 and run all the way up to 9999.
Combination of all the Numbers
The numbers were issued in order as people were born or became naturalized citizens of the United States of America. Almost all of the Area Numbers were assigned at the outset of the system’s organization. Then in each Area, the Group Numbers were issued at a quicker or slower pace depending on how many people were being born in that Area. And, of course, the Serial Numbers filled up one by one for each Group Number.
For example, someone who got their Social Security card in the state of Oklahoma could have an Area Number of 442. If that person was born in the late 1960s, then the Oklahoma area numbers were up to Group 84. So that person’s Social Security Number would be something like 442-84-XXXX, where XXXX is whatever serial number the Social Security Office was up to when the person was issued their card.
Today, people generally get a Social Security Number at birth, but in the 20th century, people would wait until they got their first job to get a number, usually sometime in their teenage years.
Although it was never intended to be the sole or primary identifying number for each citizen, through inertia and by virtue of the fact that it is the one number that just about every citizen is issued, it has become the de-facto identity number of Americans. This is convenient, in that most all of us have a Social Security Number, and it is easy to remember because of the group breakout.
Two Reasons Why the Social Security Number is Inconvenient
The Social Security Number is highly inconvenient for two reasons:
- It is a really easy number to steal, and once someone’s number has been stolen, crooks can do all kinds of diabolical things.
- The supply of Social Security Numbers is finite. There are just under a billion possible Social Security Number combinations in theory, and in practice, there are significantly fewer.
Large numbers of potential Area Numbers are not assigned, and so those enormous blocks of Social Security Numbers are unavailable. Those Area Numbers could be brought into service, but that in turn would (almost ironically) confuse many millions of lines of computer code, written with the assumption that the Area Numbers had all been assigned and that any Social Security Number belonging to a null Area Number must itself be invalid.
The Social Security Administration has already taken steps to mitigate this issue. Starting in 2011, Social Security Numbers began to be issued with random numbers, rather than strictly adhering to the Area Number and Group Number system. This smooth the distribution of numbers and moves the date when we run out of numbers into the future by at least a few years.
As of 2019, about 450 million Social Security Numbers have been issued, out of the one billion possible numbers. We don’t yet know what will happen when we run out of Social Security Numbers; it would be relatively easy to add another digit to the number, and it would also be possible to start recycling the Social Security Numbers of people who are deceased. That would be its own computer software nightmare, however, as the computer systems of banks, insurance agencies, and tax records resurrect long-deceased Americans via their SSN.
All this information is very interesting and important for you to know, but let us go back to the main aim of this article – which is if your Social Security Number has been compromised.
What if My Social Security Number has been stolen?
Okay, what if some bad guy out there steals, obtains, guesses, or otherwise gets hold of your Social Security Number? This means you are in a bit of danger.
With your Social Security Number, a fraudster can apply for credit cards in your name, which will be a big mess for you to clean up once they fail to repay the debt after maxing out the card. Another worse scenario is that they can use your Social Security Number to get a job. This will cause serious confusion to your tax account and your Social Security account once the employer files taxes.
Because it is vital to have a Social Security Number before you can get a job in the United States, thieves are fond of stealing Social Security Numbers specifically for the purpose of selling them out to people who do not have permission to work in the United States, so that they can easily secure a job.
There is nothing wrong with the people to secure the job, but if they are using your Social Security Number, it can cause confusion and issues with your taxes and Social Security benefits. The worst part is that you can even lose your Social Security benefits, which can be a huge amount of money in dollars.
As you can see, it is important to carry out a Social Security Number background check so that you can be able to figure out if someone is using your Social Security Number without your permission. Now, let me show you how to know if your SSN has been compromised.
Signs of Social Security Fraud
The first question you need to ask yourself is how did someone else lay his hands on my Social Security Number? Maybe you lost your Social Security card in your wallet, or maybe your credit file (including your SSN) was exposed in a data breach on a website. If any of both is the case, then you already know that your information may have leaked.
If you can trace any means of leak that does not mean it is still impossible for someone to have your SSN, but if you do, then there is a definite possibility that someone does have it.
How to Detect if Your Social Security Number is Being Used by Someone Else
You can easily know if your Social Security Number has been compromised when you start noticing any of the following:
- Calls or letters from creditors or collection agents for debts you do not remember or recognize
- Banks or credit card companies following up on payment arrangements or credit confirmation letters for loans that you did not take out
- A sudden unexplained change (either positive OR negative) in your credit score
- Errors when attempting to file income tax with the IRS
- Updated Social Security status reports that show an incorrect level of salary or hours of employment for a quarter
- Bills or financial mail not showing up in your mailbox – This means the thief has redirected this mail to their address
- Unauthorized transactions on your bank account or credit cards
- You get tax documents such as tax transcripts from the IRS that you did not request
- You receive a tax refund before you’ve even filed your taxes – the thief was hoping to steal it out of your mailbox
- Mail goes missing because the thief is stealing it from your mailbox
- Your employer informs you there is a problem with your Social Security Number when they are doing their paperwork and tax filings
- You get two-factor authorization requests that you did not submit
- You see small “test charges” on your credit or debit accounts
- You start getting advertisements for high-end items like cars, boats, and home improvement loans because there has been high-ticket activity on your accounts that you don’t recognize
Some of these signs are not infallible – they could be as a result of clerical error or the normal operation of the system. For example, your credit score might go up because you paid all your bills this month, and you may get a flyer for a home improvement loan because a lender is sending them out to everybody. The best course of action is to follow up on anything unusual or abnormal that happens on your accounts so that you can figure out why the event occurred. If you cannot detect a cause, it is a good sign that your Social Security Number has been compromised.
Social Security Number Background Check
There are three ways to directly check for activities related to your Social Security Number.
- Get a Social Security Statement
The Social Security Administration maintains an online service that allows you to find out what you have paid into Social Security, how many hours of work your employers have reported each quarter, and what your expected benefits would be if you were to retire or go on disability in the near future. By requesting your Social Security statement, you can check these figures against your last statement and against what paid work you have been doing recently, to quickly see if someone else has been logging hours to your Social Security account.
You may think that would be wonderful since the worker reporting hours to your Social Security account is moving you closer to vesting your Social Security benefit, but in fact, you can have your expected Social Security payments greatly reduced if someone is reporting low-wage labor to your account. So you want to clear up any double-dipping of your Social Security account.
Requesting your statement is straightforward. You will need to create a “my Social Security” account if you don’t already have one. You can access the sign-in/account creation page here. Once logged in, you can request a Social Security statement to print out from your account. If you prefer a low-tech approach, you can fill out a request form and mail it in, and get a statement mailed to you in 4 to 6 weeks.
- Get a Tax Transcript
Another way of detecting activity on your Social Security number is to request your most recent tax transcript. If someone has filed tax documents using your Social Security Number, the transcript will show activity that you know you didn’t originate, and you will have a definite answer.
Getting your most recent tax transcript is quite simple. Just use the tax transcript tool on the IRS website. You can also call the IRS and request one directly at 1-800-908-9946. Or you can print and mail in Form 4506-T to request transcripts for your various tax documents by mail.
- Check Your Credit Report
The Social Security Administration can tell you if someone is working on your SSN and the IRS can tell you if someone is filing taxes on it, but only your credit agencies can tell you if someone is using your SSN to acquire and use credit in your name. There are three major credit reporting agencies in the United States: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. They each have slightly different methodologies and scoring programs, but they all more or less provide the same service.
You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report every 12 months (you should be getting them every year anyway because they are your lifeline to good credit). By contacting each service and requesting your report, you can immediately spot any suspicious activity on your credit accounts. Look for credit card applications, loan applications, and any debt you don’t recognize.
Requesting your reports is simple:
- Equifax: 1-800-525-6285 – equifax.com
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742 – experian.com
- TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289 – transunion.com
You may also want to subscribe to one of the many monthly update services which will give you a free credit report each month, basically in exchange for looking at the occasional advertisement. CreditKarma is a reputable service, and if you sign up for it (or one of the many others doing the same thing) you can keep a monthly eye on your credit score and your credit history, making it very difficult for an identity thief to put one over you in the long run.
What You Should Do When Someone is Making Use of Your SSN
Conducting a Social Security Number background check to figure out if someone has your SSN is one thing while fixing the problem is another.
If someone else is making use of your SSN, then you need to act quickly. There are four things you need to do: Contact the Federal Trade Commission to report identity theft, contact the credit reference agencies to report the theft, contact the Social Security Administration, and contact your local police.
- The FTC is at 1-877-438-4338 or https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/. There is a form to complete to report identity theft.
- Contact the three credit reference agencies and ask them to place a freeze on your credit report. This will prevent any new applications being created in your name. This will stop more debt from piling up.
- Contact the SSA on 1-800-269-0271 or Log on to the IRS Identity Protection website to alert them and prevent any tax returns from being filed in your name.
- Optionally, but recommended, alert the Internet Crime Complaints Center at http://www.ic3.gov/. They alert other agencies that your SSN has been compromised.
Once you have done all these, you still need to report the crime to your local police. If you can remember how the theft took place, for example maybe your wallet was stolen, you can easily give the information to the police about how it transpired.
Identity theft is a serious crime and you can prevent it from becoming a serious problem for you. You can go through your credit report regularly to identify any activity you do not recognize. If you notice some strange activities, do not panic. You can contact each organization directly through their customer service helpline and explain the situation to them. Work with them to sort out what has happened and the possible next step to take. Carry out this measure for all instances where fraudulent activity has occurred on your account.
If someone else is making use of your Social Security Number, then it is very important to act quickly. Any delay can incur more debt on your account. The longer the fraud has been going on, the less likely for you to get an expeditious reversal of the charges from the merchants and vendors the thief has run up accounts with. This is why it is important to always carry out a Social Security Number background check.