A young man came into my office the other day with a shocking story. He looked very much alive but he had a report from his Social Security records that said he was deceased. He said he discovered his problem when he applied for a loan and was turned down because the credit check showed he was dead. I told him that it sounds like a case of identity theft and we would look into it right away, which is being done.
The Social Security Administration says identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. A dishonest person who has your Social Security number can also use it to get other personal information about you.
Identity thieves can use your number and your good credit to apply for more credit in your name. Then, they use the credit cards and do not pay the bills. You may not find out that someone is using your number until you are turned down for credit or you begin to get calls from unknown creditors demanding payment for items you never bought.
Someone illegally using your Social Security number and assuming your identity can cause a lot of problems.
How do they get your personal information?
The Social Security Administration says identity thieves get your information by stealing wallets, purses and your mail, especially credit card statements and pre-approved credit offers. They advise people to show their Social Security card to their employer when they start a new job, and then to put it in a safe place. Do not carry it with you and risk losing it. Sometimes more than one person is using the same number -- either on purpose or by accident -- so make sure you pay attention to your bank and credit card statements.
What should you do if you think someone is using your number? Contact Social Security, either on line or in person. I also advise Nebraskans to contact me, as the gentleman did when he found out he was listed as deceased on his Social Security form.
If someone is creating credit problems for you by misusing your Social Security number or other personal information, the Social Security Administration cannot resolve problems with credit card companies or banks, but they do offer some helpful advice at http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10064.html. The Federal Trade Commission also has some excellent information at www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft.
While identity theft is something we must deal with in the 21st Century, there is plenty of help available to help all of us defend our private information and detect if it has been compromised. Identity theft is a problem, but it's not a problem that we can't fight.