If your name, social security number and address are available on the dark web – and for the majority of us they are (more than 16B records have been exposed in data breaches in the past few years – more than 8B in the first quarter of 2020 alone) – it’s too late to think about locking them up. It’s time to think about how they might be used by criminals. Closely monitoring your credit reports is one way to spot misuse of your social security number early on.
Scores vs Reports
A lot of us are very aware of our credit scores and may think that if our scores are high there is no reason to check our credit reports, which list new accounts, increased limits and missed payments.
Because of the increased risk of credit fraud for all of us, it’s time to start reviewing your credit reports regularly. There are three national credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – and through April 10, 2022 you can request a free report every week from each one if you like. After April 10, 2022 credit bureaus may revert to one free report per year, in which case we recommend alternating throughout the year.
Your credit reports are free, but may not include your current score and some services may try to charge you for that. For our purposes you don’t always need the score, the report is also valuable. We recommend getting your reports here: https://www.annualcreditreport.com/
What to look for
- Companies that have requested your credit report – make sure you know why your credit was pulled
- New accounts – obviously you should recognize all your accounts but be especially vigilant for new accounts
- Inaccuracies – while you’re reviewing your report it’s a good time to make sure everything is accurate and to make sure any dings against you are removed after 7 years
We don’t necessarily think you have to review three credit reports a week to stay safe – but once a month is worth your time during this era of especially high cybercrime.
What your Credit Report doesn’t cover – Unemployment Fraud
Unemployment benefit fraud is on the rise and unfortunately it won’t show up on your credit reports. Many victims only find out when they are asked to pay income taxes on money they never received. It’s worth a call to your state’s labor department to make sure no one has filed in your name. Call the umber you would call if you were going to file for unemployment in your state.
Similarly, it’s possible for a thief to use your number to file for a tax refund or for medical benefits. But unemployment fraud is the most likely.
Creating an account at SSA.gov
The Social Security Administration encourages you to create an account at ssa.gov if you haven’t already. This will make it harder for anyone else to get access to your income history and other sensitive information. It will also allow you to see your SSA record online whenever want.
So there you have it – three things you can do to keep a close watch on your social security number:
- Monthly free reports (at least until 4/10/22)
- Make sure no one is filing unemployment in your name
- Create your SSA account