Dear Consumer Ed:
I just heard about a security hack that left my Social Security number out there. How can I protect myself?
Consumer Ed says:
Identity thieves use Social Security numbers for a variety of purposes: to file tax returns, to apply for government benefits, to obtain employment, to open credit cards, bank accounts and/or take out loans, or get medical care. If you think your Social Security number was compromised during a hack, follow these steps:
Contact the Social Security Administration. An identity thief may use your Social Security number to get work. If the employer then reports that individual’s income to the IRS using your Social Security number, you might have issues later because it will appear as though you didn’t report all of your income to the government. You can contact the Social Security Administration to review your earnings record by calling 1-800-772-1213 or visiting www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.
Contact the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). An identity thief who has used your Social Security number to obtain a job or file a tax return might try to change the address on file with the IRS in order to have a tax refund sent directly to him or her. To contact the IRS Identity Protection Unit, call 1-800-908-4490 or visit www.irs.gov/uac/Identity-Protection.
Place a security freeze with each of the three credit bureaus. A security freeze (also known as a “credit freeze”) locks your credit file so that no one can see your credit report or credit score unless you lift the freeze. Since banks and lenders access your credit file in order to determine whether or not to extend credit to you, a security freeze will prevent an identity thief from using your information to get a credit card or loan. You will need to contact each of the credit bureaus to place the credit freeze:
Get copies of your credit reports. You can get free credit reports each year by going to annualcreditreport.com. Review your reports carefully. If you come across any accounts or collection items that you do not recognize, contact the credit bureaus to dispute the matter and get it resolved. Under federal law, you are entitled to one free credit report each year from each of the three major credit bureaus. Georgia residents are entitled to an additional two free credit reports per year from each of the bureaus. Please note that because of the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the three credit reporting agencies are offering free weekly credit reports through December 31, 2022.
For more information, visit consumer.georgia.gov/consumer-topics/identity-theft.