Posting about identity theft is not the most cheerful way of closing out the year but I have received questions on the topic, answered below, due to the recent theft of personal information from a major retailer.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website (www.ftc.gov) has a lot of information related to identify theft including about the recent retailer data theft. See the FTC consumber information section at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/.
Q: Will the Social Security Administration know if someone is misusing my Social Security number (SSN)?
A: Eventually, perhaps. You will likely know long before Social Security does. Although other agencies and organizations use SSN’s, within Social Security the primary use of the SSN is to associate wages or self-employment earnings with a person’s individual record so that Social Security retirement, survivors and disabilty amounts are properly computed.
Individual earnings information is received from employers, or the self-employed, once a year when W-2 data is reported or with self-employment tax returns. This is posted to individual records on a flow basis all during the year and, for paper W-2s, usually completed in the fall of the following year. For example, calendar year 2012 earnings were almost all posted by the fall of 2013. Posting is faster for W-2 information electronically transmitted to Social Security using the free Business Services Online tools. Posting of wages just updates a record. It does not automatically identify if those wages are actually yours or if someone has stolen your identity and using your Social Security number.
Social Security recommends that you review your personal earnings record at least annually. Do this by creating a my Social Security account at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount/ and then looking at the earnings on your Social Security Statement. If those earnings are wrong, provide the accurate information to Social Security and corrections can be made.
The Statement also provides estimated benefit amounts for yourself and family members. See a sample at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount/SSA-7005-OL.pdf. Read the How We Verify and Protect Your Identy section when creating your my Social Security account.
Q: Can I get a new Social Security number (SSN) due to ID theft?
A: Not impossible, but definitely rare. This action is usually only for very severe and ongoing problems. Obtaining a new number will not solve all misuse problems and might actually create new ones since your work, credit, tax, banking information and more are referenced under the orginal number. A person receiving a new SSN cannot use the old number anymore.