As avid Internet users, keeping track of our daily online activities can be challenging. From online shopping to paying bills, we may have accidentally shared stuff we’re not supposed to—including our SSN information.
Unfortunately, scammers can use our SSN to steal identity and commit fraud. This can lead to devastating consequences on our finances and overall well-being.
It’s not too late, though–there are ways to prevent identity theft. To help you get started, our team reviewed the latest updates on the ever-evolving ID theft and cyber threats to ensure you’re well-informed.
We also checked the official sites of government authorities and online safety experts and gathered the best tips to help you when your SSN has been lost, stolen, or exposed.
From our research, we’ve learned the most critical sign someone is using your information, so don’t miss out and realize your SSN was stolen when damage has already been done.
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Why are the last four digits of your SSN so important?
Although many institutions ask for the last four digits of your SSN, you must protect them at all times. They’re unique identifiers that should remain yours alone.
Generally speaking, your SSN isn’t generated randomly. The digits come in three groups, which signify different things. Here’s a breakdown of the categories:
- First three numbers: These are your area number, which depends on the geographic location where you first applied for your Social Security card.
- The next two numbers: In the middle of your SSN is the group number, which ranges from 01 to 99. They are used to divide the SSN to make it easier to use and remember.
- The last four numbers: This is your serial number, made exclusively for you. It ranges from 0001 to 9999.
Hackers can quickly identify the first five digits by simply looking up your birth date and where the SSN card was issued.
Unfortunately, most people also mistake using the last four digits as bank PINs or passwords, making them easy for scammers to figure out.
Scammers can use your SSN to open bank accounts, steal your government benefits, drain your savings, and even claim healthcare benefits or receive tax refunds—all under your name.
They can do so with the last four digits of your SSN, address, and date of birth (DOB).
Kinds of ID theft using SSN
What can someone do with the last four digits of your SSN? They can steal your identity and commit fraud through several methods. Here are some of the most common ones:
1. Financial ID theft
Scammers can use your Social Security number to gain control of your finances. They use your identity to create bank accounts under your name.
They can also apply for credit cards or loans and drain your savings through withdrawals.
2. Criminal ID theft
Apart from compromising your financial health, criminals can also fake being the Social Security number holder to commit crimes under your name.
While others resort to using your identity just to get out of speeding ticket cases, other criminals can use your name to commit more severe crimes like illegal drug possession and human trafficking.
3. Medical identity fraud
Healthcare is expensive, and criminals know this. Others end up using fake names or stolen identities to pay for medical emergencies or medical care, which can end up compromising your own coverage when you end up needing medical attention.
4. Government ID theft
If there’s one agency that holds every bit of information about you, it’s the government.
However, criminals can use your personal information to commit crimes like tax refund fraud or tax-related identity theft.
Criminals can file income tax returns falsely under your name, which means stealing money from the government.
When you should provide the numbers
Is it ever safe to provide the last four digits of your SSN? Yes, there are legitimate instances that require them.
Government agencies and financial institutions use your Social Security number to validate your eligibility and compute benefit payments.
Do jobs need your SSN? Yes, employers also require your SSN, as they will submit it to the IRS as part of wage report requirements.
SSNs also become part of your passport and license details, loans, and healthcare requirements.
Your assigned SSN will remain the same throughout your life and will likely only need to change if someone steals it.
How do I know if someone is using my Social Security number?
If you want to check if someone’s using your SSN, your first step should be to review your credit report.
You can access your credit reports through AnnualCreditReport.com, but you can also contact the organization at 1-877-322-8228 to request a free copy. Remember that it’s the only authorized website for free annual credit reports under law.
Once you’ve received your copy, review each item carefully. If you see any suspicious activity, such as an unfamiliar new credit line, bank account, or loan, report them immediately. Seeing a discrepancy in these aspects is one of the biggest signs of SSN fraud.
You can also review the following documents:
- Social Security Statement: This shows when someone withdraws wrongfully from your Social Security account earnings.
- Bank and credit card statements: These show when someone uses your accounts for transactions, such as online shopping, withdrawal, or transfers.
If something isn’t right, someone may have already used your SSN to commit fraud.
You gave your SSN to a scammer: Now what?
There’s no need to panic, but you need to act fast. You can take steps to reduce identity theft damage, especially when your SSN is at stake. Here are some of them:
1. Contact your bank
You must contact your financial institution immediately if someone has gained access to your bank information through a stolen SSN. They can tell you which course of action to take, but generally, they can help you block credit cards, rescind wire transfers, and cancel debit cards.
2. Ask for a credit freeze
Suppose you lose your SSN card or are sure someone has stolen your SSN. In that case, you need to reach out to three credit reporting agencies as soon as possible: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.
Ask them for a credit freeze, as this will help ensure that identity thieves can no longer access your credit lines. Once financial representatives see a credit freeze order, they’ll know to turn down any attempts from the criminal.
3. Contact the Social Security Administration (SSA)
Lastly, you need to contact the SSA at 1-800-772-1213 or submit a report online. You may need to provide an incident report, so make sure to prepare that beforehand. Representatives can help you get an SSN replacement.
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How can you prevent SSN Theft?
Minimizing the damage is one thing, but learning how to prevent SSN theft is also essential. Check out these tips:
- Leave your Social Security card at home. You never know when you can lose your wallet or purse. You may keep the number in your phone if you need it or only carry it around when applying for a loan, bank account, or credit card. Otherwise, keep it tucked away in your home.
- Don’t give away your SSN information freely. The only organizations you can trust with your SSN are your employers, the IRS, banks, lenders, and other government agencies. Not even your family needs to know!
- Act swiftly. While not necessarily a prevention tip, acting quickly can help minimize damage. Apart from reporting to the SSA, banks, and credit reporting bureaus, consider filing a police report. This way, you’ll have an official document to help support your case.
Carl Jensen, personal finance expert and founder of banking resource website Compare Banks, also shares these guidelines:
“Offer a different form of identification. Offer your driver's license number in place of your SSN if a company or other entity requests it. You can also use a passport or utility bill to verify your current and prior addresses or even a student ID from a college or institution.
Find out why they want it and how they plan to handle it. If the company insists, enquire. You have a right to know why disclosing your SSN is required and how it will be used. Ask inquiries like “why is it important to have my SSN?.”
From online shopping to chatting with friends, we rely on the internet for daily activities. It shouldn’t become a place we all fear, but it’s also essential to proceed cautiously before every click.
Scammers are everywhere, and once they gain access to your SSN, the consequences can be serious. Thankfully, a little knowledge goes a long way. Protection starts with learning!