It can seem like a hassle to have to keep track of your legal identification: Obtaining credit reports, reading your Social Security statements, watching emails and bills. But not keeping track of it is far worse.
Recently, MSNBC’s Bob Sullivan interviewed a man whose Social Security Number has been shared illegally with 50 different people.
Texas resident Jonathan Barnett, 27, is also Jose Cruz, Esmerelda Gonzalez, and Pilar Sanchez, to name just a few. “It’s like I have a ghost out there,” Barnett says in the article. “Lots of ghosts.”
Barnett was tipped to the ID theft when he started getting emails from Wells Fargo addressed to a Pilar Sanchez. Barnett wasn’t careless about checking his financials–just the opposite.
It seems that a certain kind of identity theft can allow imposters to “share” victims’ SSNs without blemishing their credit reports.” It involves employment fraud. If your SSN is not used to open credit cards and create unpaid bills, the compromise may not be discovered for years.
Unfortunately, employment fraud can be just as damaging as financial fraud. And, the article says, 40 million SSNs have multiple names connected to them, at least some of which indicate fraud. (Other explanations are typos or legitimate name changes.)
To do the minimum to protect your identity, you need to at least:
- Get a copy of your free annual credit report each year from Equifax, Experien and TransUnion. A good option is to spread out your three reports throughout the year, requesting one every four months.
- If you’ve had your purse or wallet stolen, your mailbox rifled, or your trash gone through, you may want to place a fraud alert on your credit reports with the above agencies. It’s a good idea to file a police report if you can.
A great resource on ID theft is the FTC’s Deter, Detect, Defend page on their website. Another is the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center. And private companies, can also be hired to do detailed searches. They may be able to look into public records like payday loans or dog licenses to find out if someone is using your SSN. Look up trustworthy companies at www.bbb.org.
And remember: With protecting your identity, it’s a case of “pay now, or pay later.” (Payment meaning either you invest in ID monitoring/protection services or you invest your time in doing the research yourself.)