What Can a Scammer Do With Your Social Security Number?

a sample of an SS card

In today's digital age, safeguarding our personal information is paramount. One particularly valuable piece of information that can be exploited for nefarious purposes is your Social Security Number (SSN). The incidence of social security number theft is increasing in the United States. But what exactly can scammers accomplish with access to your SSN?

Before delving into the top ten nefarious activities a scammer can carry out with your SSN, I would like to point out that a scammer cannot accomplish much with your Social Security number alone. They require additional personal information such as your name and date of birth to effectively perpetrate fraudulent activities. 

Scammers typically acquire an SSN first before seeking out other essential details to complement the SSN, thereby facilitating the execution of their illicit schemes. For instance, to deplete your bank account, a scammer would need your account particulars in addition to your SSN. There are targeted methods scammers employ to obtain such information.

Following the acquisition of someone's SSN, scammers often resort to sending phishing emails or texts. Their primary objective is to entice you into clicking on a phishing link, enabling them to infiltrate your computer or phone. They frequently masquerade as government entities or companies you patronize. For instance, consider reading my articles on the "Top 5 Netflix Phishing Scams To Watch Out For" and "Beware of These Hulu Phishing Email Scams."

One prevalent scam involves a text purportedly from the postal service, requesting a nominal fee for a delivery completion. However, the small sum of money is not the fraudsters' ultimate goal; instead, they aim to capture the card details you input. Once scammers possess your SSN alongside other personal information, they can carry out the following fraudulent activities:

1. Get a loan in your name

With access to your Social Security Number, scammers can easily steal your identity and fraudulently obtain loans in your name, leading to a decline in your credit score. 

On March 11, 2019, NBC Boston reported on a concerning incident involving a woman from Falmouth, Massachusetts who encountered difficulties obtaining a loan due to fraudulent activity. 

The woman, identified as Roman, had applied for a home equity loan at her bank. However, upon reviewing her credit report, the bank discovered an outstanding Eversource energy bill amounting to $3,400.

"It was creepy, like someone came into my home, got into my files, and walked away with my social security number," Roman told NBC Boston after discovering she was a victim of identity theft and utility fraud.

It was revealed that an account had been fraudulently opened in Roman's name, using her social security number and linked to a property in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood.

It just goes to show that anyone can fall victim to financial fraud. Even if you're careful with your personal info, sneaky scammers can still steal your identity and open accounts in your name. Keeping an eye on your credit report regularly can help you catch any funny business early on and minimize the damage.

2. Open a bank account in your name

Protecting your Social Security number is crucial in preventing fraudsters from opening bank accounts in your name. Monitoring your credit reports is essential to catching identity thieves who may attempt to open fraudulent credit card accounts. However, it is equally important to be vigilant about checking account activity.

If a criminal were to open a bank account in your name, they could potentially use it to bounce checks or overdraw funds, leaving you responsible for the consequences. Unlike credit reports, checking account activity is not always monitored as closely, making it easier for fraudulent activity to go unnoticed.

Therefore, you should regularly review your checking account reports to ensure that all activity is legitimate. By staying informed about your financial accounts, you can detect any suspicious activity early on and take action to protect yourself.

For more information on checking account reports and how to obtain a copy of yours for free, visit Money Talks News.

3. Empty your bank account

A scammer who possesses your Social Security Number may attempt to access your bank account and steal money if they have obtained your account information. While it may be challenging for someone to do so solely with your SSN, scammers are able to acquire all necessary details to deplete your bank account through data breaches on the Dark Web. This information could encompass your account numbers and passwords. Once scammers gain access, they use digital wallets such as Zelle and Cash App to transfer funds discreetly, leaving minimal digital traces.

An unfortunate example of this occurred on November 17, 2023, when a 74-year-old woman fell victim to a scam, losing $75,000 of her life savings. The scammer, posing as a legitimate authority, convinced her to empty her bank accounts by reciting her SSN and claiming they were compromised.

He told me that I needed to move the money from my bank accounts to bitcoins so that we could keep the money and change Social Security numbers and bank account numbers,” Terry told 9News.

Trusting the caller's urgency, the woman transferred the money into bitcoin and provided the scammer with the unique numbers associated with the funds. It was only when she attempted to access her retirement account that she realized she had been deceived, as her financial advisor informed her of the scam.

4. Get a driver's license in your name

In the majority of US states, it is a requirement to provide your Social Security Number when applying for a driver's license. Unfortunately, when scammers gain access to your SSN, they can exploit it to fraudulently obtain a driver's license and assume your identity. This type of scam, known as criminal identity theft, can be incredibly challenging to detect and rectify.

When you are in the process of renting a house, hotel room, or car, you will often be asked to confirm your identity. One of the most common methods of verification is by presenting your driver's license. Scammers can take advantage of this by renting a vehicle in your name and failing to return it, booking a hotel room and causing damage, or renting a property and abandoning it without paying rent, all of which can have a negative impact on your credit.

However, there are certain red flags to watch out for, such as warrants for arrests or traffic citations issued in states you have not visited. If you suspect that an identity thief has fraudulently obtained a driver's license in your name, you should contact your state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) immediately for assistance.

On December 13, 2022, USA TODAY published an article detailing the arrest of 29-year-old Lashawnda Scales on forgery charges. Scales was accused of orchestrating a scheme to fund a lavish lifestyle in Las Vegas by stealing the identities of unsuspecting victims. Among her alleged crimes, Scales reportedly obtained a fraudulent driver's license using the Social Security Number of a young woman from Ohio. 

a fraudulent driver's license

Additionally, she committed various fraudulent activities in the victim's name, resulting in threats from credit agencies and eviction notices being sent from properties located 2,000 miles away from the victim' residence.

5. Receive medical care using your benefits

By using your Social Security Number and personal information, an identity thief could potentially evade paying for medical expenses or emergencies, ultimately impacting your insurance coverage. Falling victim to medical identity theft can result in receiving unfamiliar bills, notices, and even being denied medical coverage. 

Furthermore, beyond tarnishing your medical records, medical identity theft can have severe consequences, including receiving improper care or being denied services due to the fraudster's medical history being mistakenly associated with yours.

6. Commit crimes in your name

Criminal identity theft occurs when a scammer uses your Social Security Number (SSN) and Personally Identifiable Information (PII) to evade legal consequences. This nefarious act enables the perpetrator to escape accountability for offenses such as traffic violations or, in more severe instances, arrest.

Consequently, the fraudster evades punishment while implicating you in their criminal activities, resulting in potential obstacles to securing employment that necessitates background checks. Moreover, this deceitful behavior not only damages your reputation but also leads to various adverse consequences.

7. Commit Social Security benefits fraud

This form of fraud involves the misuse of a Social Security Number (SSN) to fraudulently obtain someone's Social Security benefits or file for unemployment under their identity. Similar to financial identity theft, victims may not realize that their benefits are being exploited until they attempt to access them and discover that they have been denied. 

Moreover, federal benefits such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are linked to an individual's SSN. A fraudster in possession of your SSN can redirect your current benefit payments and fraudulently apply for additional benefits, leaving you without crucial support while you navigate the lengthy process of proving your identity.

8. Commit utility fraud in your name

Scammers can use your personal information and Social Security number to establish or enhance utility service agreements. These agreements may involve water, gas, electricity, phone, internet, cable, or other services. Similar to other forms of identity theft involving Social Security numbers, you may not become aware that someone is receiving free utilities under your name until you start receiving overdue bills.

9. File a fraudulent tax return

Tax identity theft is similar to Social Security benefits fraud, with the key distinction being that the perpetrator use your Social Security Number and Personally Identifiable Information to file fraudulent tax refunds in your name. This type of fraud, also known as Stolen Identity Refund Fraud (SIRF), while not as prevalent as financial identity theft, still results in significant financial losses for Americans each year. 

Regrettably, victims often remain unaware of the crime until they encounter difficulties filing their tax returns. Consequently, they are unable to access their stolen tax refunds, as resolving the issue with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and proving their identity theft status can be a lengthy process, lasting several months.

On Wednesday, May 17, 2023, CNBC reported that the IRS identified over one million tax returns as potential cases of identity theft during the 2023 tax season, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. This indicates that fraudulent activities remain a significant concern for taxpayers in the United States.

If you're dealing with any of the identity theft issues mentioned above, there are steps you can take to stop unauthorized use of your SSN and other personal info. You can lock your SSN by calling the Social Security Administration or setting up an E-Verify account (see what happens when you lock your SSN). You can also reach out to all three major credit bureaus to freeze your credit reports.

How might someone steal your SSN?

Ever wonder how someone could steal your Social Security Number? Well, identity thieves have a few sneaky ways of getting their hands on your personal info:
  • They might swipe your wallet, purse, or even your mail (like bank statements, credit card offers, or tax documents).
  • They could snatch personal details you share on sketchy websites, from work records, or even from stuff lying around your house.
  • They might dig through your garbage, business trash, or public dumps to find juicy personal data.
  • Sometimes, they'll straight up buy your info from shady sources. Like, they could bribe a store worker to spill the beans about you on a credit application.
  • And get this - they might pretend to be someone legit (like an employer or landlord) over the phone or email just to trick you into giving up your deets.
So, keep an eye out for any sketchy behavior and protect your SSN like it's your BFF!
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