I used to get annoyed when my mother would save mail addressed to me that was delivered to my parents’ home. I hadn’t lived there in a decade, and paperless documents have been a thing for like, a while now. It was our weekly ritual — she’d call me and I would try to gauge the severity of whatever mistake I’d made by the tone of her voice. Had I run that red light on Queens Boulevard last week and gotten a ticket? Had she opened my latest credit card statement and seen the (gasp) balance? Was she merely annoyed that Days of Our Lives was a rerun?
After a few minutes, she’d reveal the purpose of her call: “I got mail for you from the DMV. How does one even go through an EZPass toll at 40 mph?”
It was during one of these conversations that she mentioned I received a credit card statement from Kohl’s. Oh no, I thought. Had I missed a payment? Was the balance — wait, I didn’t have a Kohl’s credit card.
Turns out, my mom’s tireless devotion to my mail was something to be thankful for, not annoyed by. I asked her to open the letter, and we discovered that someone had applied for a Kohl’s credit card using my name, address, and worst of all, my Social Security number.
Luckily, the application was denied, so no actual damage was done. But, knowing someone has your Social Security number feels like losing your house keys and waiting for a robber to waltz through your front door at any minute. Only I couldn’t change the locks. Getting a new Social Security number is about as easy as scoring Hamilton tickets or being appointed to the Supreme Court.
So, what steps can you take to protect yourself if your identity is stolen? I began by drinking a bottle of red wine and eating cookie dough from a carton.
But eventually, I did some actual research and got the situation under control. And now, I pay attention when my mom tells me I have mail.
What to do if you think someone is using your Social Security number:
- Contact the business or credit card company where the fraudulent activity occurred. Kohl’s opened an investigation for me. I don’t know that anything ever came of it, but they were able to tell me exactly what personal information of mine was no longer personal.
- Place an alert on your credit file with one of the three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. Placing an alert through one of the agencies will trigger the other two to do the same, so if you’re uncomfortable using Equifax in light of the recent data breach, alert one of the others. This free service requires credit grantors to verify your identity before approving any new line of credit.
- Get a free credit report from these agencies. The report will show you information about your credit history, such as how many open credit lines you have (yeah, even that Victoria’s Secret one you opened in 12th grade with the terrible APR). You’re entitled to a free credit report from each agency every 12 months.
- Review your Social Security earnings record online at www.ssa.gov. The record will show you if anyone is employed using your Social Security number.
- File a report and get a recovery plan online at www.IdentityTheft.gov. The site is managed by the Federal Trade Commission, and they’ll help you through every step of the process.
- If you think your Social Security number is being used in any scheme involving your taxes, contact the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) online or call 1-800-908-4490.
- File a police report with the local police. Yes, this is a real step. Even though a lot of this type of criminal activity happens online, it’s still something the police should know about.