Identity theft and Social Security
Q: My daughter recently had problems with a stolen purse and with someone possibly using her Social Security number. She went to the Social Security office and she was told to contact credit reporting agencies and possibly the police. And they gave her some website to look up. It seems to me they should have done more. Can’t they just cancel her old number and give her a new one? Was she informed correctly?
A: Yes, she probably was given correct information. When a Social Security card is stolen, many people think that is a problem for the Social Security Administration to resolve. But when you think it through, it really isn’t.
As a general rule, SSA gets involved in your life for three reasons. Their first job is to issue you a Social Security number. Their second job is to keep a lifetime record of all the earnings your employer reports under that SSN. Or if you are self-employed, to keep track of the income you report on the Schedule SE of your annual tax return. And finally, SSA’s third job is to pay you monthly retirement or disability benefits that are based on all those earnings that are posted to your Social Security account. Or if you die, they pay your widow(er) and/or children a survivor’s benefits based on those same earnings.
I don’t want to sound too flip or dismissive about this, but if someone steals your Social Security card, it’s really not SSA’s problem. Or to put that another way, there isn’t all that much they can do about it.
They can help you monitor your Social Security earnings record. If you see earnings posted to that record that don’t belong to you, they can correct that record.
But I doubt that is your daughter’s major concern. She is likely much more worried about someone misusing her Social Security number and other personal information to create credit problems. The first step for her to resolve this is to visit IdentityTheft.gov to report the theft and to start a recovery plan. (I am sure this was the website the Social Security people referred her to.) IdentityTheft.gov is a one-stop resource managed by the Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency. Or she can call them at 1-877-IDTHEFT.
Your daughter also may want to contact the Internal Revenue Service. If she is eligible for a refund, an identity thief could file a tax return before she does and get her refund. Then, when she does file, the IRS will think she already received her refund. The identity thief also may use your daughter’s SSN to get a job. That person’s employer would report earned income to the IRS using her Social Security number. This will make it appear that she didn’t report all of her income on her tax return. If you think your daughter may have tax issues because someone has stolen her identity, go to www.irs.gov/uac/Identity-Protection or call 1-800-908-4490.
Also, your daughter should file an online complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov. The IC3 gives victims of cybercrime a convenient and easy-to-use reporting mechanism that alerts authorities of suspected criminal or civil violations. IC3 sends every complaint to one or more law enforcement or regulatory agencies with jurisdiction. According to their website, the IC3 reflects a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National White Collar Crime Center and the Bureau of Justice Assistance.
Here’s another thought: Your daughter should also monitor her credit report periodically. She can get free credit reports online at AnnualCreditReport.com. You wondered why SSA didn’t just cancel her old number and give her a new one. That is something that can be done, but it really should be a worst-case scenario solution. In other words, if she has taken all the steps she can take to resolve her problems with no luck, a new SSN can be issued to her.
But she should keep in mind that a new number probably won’t solve all her problems. This is because other governmental agencies (such as the IRS and state motor vehicle agencies) and private businesses (such as banks and credit reporting companies) will have records under her old number. Along with other personal information, credit reporting companies use the number to identify her credit record. So using a new number won’t guarantee a fresh start. For some victims of identity theft, a new number actually creates problems. If the old credit information isn’t associated with her new number, the absence of any credit history under her new number may make it more difficult for your daughter to get credit.
Q: A friend of mine received a new Medicare card in the mail. It’s supposed to have something to do with identity theft. But I didn’t get a new card. What should I do?
A: What you should do is just be patient. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (the federal agency that runs the Medicare program), new Medicare cards will be mailed to everyone between now and April 2019. So it could be up to a year before you get your new card.
Since the inception of the Medicare program in 1967, CMS had always used your Social Security “claim number” as your Medicare number. The claim number is the number of the Social Security account from which you are claiming benefits. Most of us get our own Social Security benefits, so our claim number is simply our own Social Security number. But for example, the claim number for a woman getting widow’s benefits is her deceased husband’s Social Security number.
Anyway, for years, seniors have complained that their Social Security claim number was displayed on their Medicare card. Because most seniors carry their Medicare card in their wallet, it opened the door to ID theft if the wallet was stolen. The new Medicare cards will have a completely different number unique to each person on Medicare.
If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. He retired in 2005 following 32 years with the Social Security Administration. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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