If someone steals your Social Security number, they can use it to open bank accounts under your name, steal your benefits, file your tax return and commit other types of fraud. Your Social Security number is tied to your identity in the U.S. Without it, you are unable to identify yourself to receive employment and benefits. A threat actor can use your Social Security number for malicious purposes such as stealing your benefits or committing crimes under your name.
Continue reading to learn more about the importance of your Social Security number, how someone can steal it, what someone can do with it, how you can tell someone stole it and how you can protect it from theft.
Why Your Social Security Number Is Important
Your Social Security number (SSN) is a nine-digit numerical identifier assigned to U.S. citizens and residents to track their income and determine benefits. People need to protect their SSN to prevent identity theft.
Identity theft is when someone steals and uses your Personal Identifiable Information (PII) without your permission to commit fraud. A threat actor can apply for loans under your name, receive medical care and steal your financial benefits. It can leave lasting effects such as damaged credit, debt, financial loss, a ruined reputation and a potential criminal record. If someone steals your SSN, it can make it difficult to verify your identity in the future and ruin your life.
How Someone Can Steal Your Social Security Number
If you’re not careful, a bad actor can steal your Social Security number and commit identity theft. Here are the ways someone can steal your Social Security number.
A data breach is when an organization’s sensitive information is accessed, stolen or used by unauthorized individuals. Data breaches often happen when organizations leak sensitive information. These leaks are either accidents or are the result of a targeted cyber attack. Cybercriminals exploit security vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access to an organization’s systems and steal sensitive data. If your SSN was exposed in a public data breach, cybercriminals can access it and use it for malicious purposes.
Phishing is a type of social engineering attack that tries to trick users into giving up their personal information such as their SSN. Cybercriminals tend to impersonate official organizations, like a company or government agency, requesting a victim’s SSN.
Cybercriminals send emails or text messages with malicious attachments or links for users to click on. If the user clicks on the malicious link, they will either accidentally download malware on their device or be directed to a spoofed website. On spoofed websites, users are prompted to give up their personal information.
Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attacks are a type of cyber attack in which cybercriminals intercept transmitted data over an unencrypted WiFi network. Cybercriminals act as the middleman between two exchanging parties which allows them to eavesdrop, steal or modify data. They rely on fabricated or public WiFi networks since they are unencrypted and allow cybercriminals to control the internet traffic. If a user sends their SSN over an unencrypted WiFi network, cybercriminals can view it and steal it.
Stealing physical documents with your Social Security Number
Some threat actors will attempt to obtain physical documents containing your Social Security number. Some will go as far as to dig through your trash to find any thrown-out sensitive documents that were improperly disposed of. Other criminals will steal wallets and purses that could contain your Social Security card along with other important documents such as your driver’s license, credit card, passport and other IDs.
What Someone Can Do With Your Social Security Number
Once a cybercriminal steals your Social Security number, they can use it to commit different types of fraud. Here is what someone can do with your Social Security number.
Open credit and bank accounts under your name
To open a bank account in your name, you must provide your SSN, address and date of birth. If a threat actor has all of this PII, they can use it to open a bank account under your name. Threat actors can also apply for credit cards and loans under your name. They will max out the credit limit of these accounts and not pay the bills. This will leave you with large amounts of debt and damage your credit.
Empty your bank account
To access and steal your money from your bank account, threat actors can use your SSN and your bank account information. They can use payment methods such as Zelle, Venmo or CashApp to easily transfer your money out of your account into theirs without leaving a trace.
Receive and steal benefits
Your SSN allows you to receive benefits such as medical services, disability, retirement income and unemployment. Your SSN acts as a form of identification that allows you to access these benefits. Threat actors can use your SSN to receive medical services under your name or steal your benefits.
This can cause complications in the future when trying to access your benefits. If you try to receive medical treatment, you could have a tainted medical record. Your financial benefits might be depleted by the time you try to access them.
Set up utilities
Threat actors can use your PII such as your SSN to open or upgrade utility services under your name. They can set up utility services such as water, gas, electricity, internet, phone and cable. You may not know someone is receiving utility services under your name until you discover the unpaid bills.
Commit crimes that end up on your record
If someone steals your SSN and commits a crime, they can avoid criminal responsibility by using your name and your SSN when asked to identify themselves by law enforcement. The threat actor can then walk away from the crime and leave you with a criminal record. Having this criminal record can make it difficult to apply for jobs that require background checks and tarnish your reputation.
File your tax return
Your SSN is needed to file your taxes, which you are required to do by the IRS. When you file your taxes, you can get a tax return in the form of a refund. If a threat actor steals your SSN, they can file your tax return to claim a fraudulent refund.
A fraudulent tax return causes problems when you try to file your tax return and are denied due to duplication. This can also cause issues with your employer who sets aside money for tax purposes. It can take months to resolve the issue and result in a damaged relationship between you and your employer, along with you and the IRS.
How To Protect Your Social Security Number From Theft
Threat actors are constantly trying to steal your Social Security number to commit identity theft and other types of fraud. You need to protect your Social Security number by taking the following steps.
Keep your Social Security card and documents in a secure location
You should never carry your Social Security card with you in your wallet since you can easily lose your wallet. You need to keep your Social Security card and any other documents containing your SSN in a secure location such as a safe. If you need to dispose of any documents with your SSN, you should shred them to prevent threat actors from digging through your trash and stealing your SSN.
Don’t insecurely share your Social Security number
You should only share your SSN if you are filing your taxes, starting a new job, getting your driver’s license, applying for government benefits, applying for a line of credit or loan, or making a cash transaction that is $10,000 or more. If you get an unsolicited message asking for your SSN, do not share it.
If you need to share your SSN digitally, you should use a password manager. A password manager is a tool that securely stores and manages your personal information, such as your login credentials, credit card information and SSN, in an encrypted vault. Password managers are protected with multiple layers of encryption and can only be accessed with a strong master password. When you send sensitive data with a password manager, your password manager encrypts the data to prevent cybercriminals from intercepting and stealing it.
Protect your online accounts with strong passwords
You need to protect your online accounts with access to your SSN by using strong and unique passwords. Using strong passwords makes it difficult for cybercriminals to crack them and compromise your accounts. Strong passwords are random and unique combinations of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters that are at least 16 characters long. They omit any personal information, sequential numbers or letters and commonly used dictionary words.
Enable MFA on your accounts whenever possible
Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) is a security protocol that requires users to provide additional authentication. When MFA is enabled, users need to provide their login credentials along with an additional form of identification to gain access to sensitive accounts or data.
MFA adds an extra layer of security to your sensitive data and ensures that only authorized users have access to your accounts. If your login credentials were compromised, cybercriminals would not be able to access your accounts since they could not provide the additional authentication. To protect your SSN, you need to enable MFA on your accounts with access to it.
Learn the signs of phishing
Cybercriminals often try to trick you into giving up your SSN through phishing attacks. To protect your SSN, you need to learn and recognize the signs of a phishing scam. Some common indicators of a phishing scam include:
- Warning from email service provider
- Urgent language
- Threats of dire consequences
- Misspellings and grammatical errors
- Unsolicited attachments or links
- Requests for personal information
- Discrepancies in email address and domain name
If you notice any of these signs, then you should avoid interacting with these messages. However, you can contact your bank and other organizations directly if you are unsure about whether a message is legitimate.
How Keeper® Protects Your Social Security Number
The best way to protect your Social Security number online is by storing it in a password manager. A password manager stores your Social Security number in an encrypted vault that can only be accessed with a master password. It also encrypts your Social Security number if you need to send it to others. Password managers ensure unauthorized users cannot access your Social Security number online.
Keeper Password Manager uses zero-knowledge encryption to protect your sensitive data from threat actors. Keeper’s One-Time Share feature allows you to securely share your Social Security number and other sensitive information on a time-limited basis. Sign up for a free trial to protect your Social Security number from cybercriminals.