social security

Stolen Social Security Numbers Are Difficult to Fix

The Social Security Administration warns Americans that identity thieves can use an individual’s Social Security number to apply for additional credit lines. Such fraud often goes undetected until debt collection calls commence months, and even years, later.

Stolen Social Security numbers also make it possible for thieves to file fraudulent tax returns, file for unemployment benefits, or apply for a job using a false identity. Each of these fraudulent activities is difficult to detect. An individual may not even know that his or her Social Security number was used to file for unemployment benefits until law enforcement notifies the individual’s employer of the suspected fraud. Fraudulent tax returns are typically discovered only when an individual’s authentic tax return is rejected.

Moreover, it is not an easy task to change or cancel a stolen Social Security number. An individual cannot obtain a new Social Security number without significant paperwork and evidence of actual misuse. Even then, a new Social Security number may not be effective, as “[t]he credit bureaus and banks are able to link the new number very quickly to the old number, so all of that old bad information is quickly inherited into the new Social Security number.”[1]

This data, as one would expect, demands a much higher price on the black market. Martin Walter, senior director at cybersecurity firm RedSeal, explained, “[c]ompared to credit card information, personally identifiable information and Social Security numbers are worth more than 10x on the black market.”[2] Include with that data taken from healthcare providers, referred to as protected health information, or PHI, and the data becomes even more valuable to hackers and identity thieves.[3]

 

[1] Victims of Social Security Number Theft Find It’s Hard to Bounce Back, NPR, Brian Naylor, Feb. 9, 2015, available at http://www.npr.org/2015/02/09/384875839/data-stolen-by-anthem-s-hackers-has-millions-worrying-about-identity-theft (last visited March 31, 2020).

[2] Anthem Hack: Personal Data Stolen Sells for 10x Price of Stolen Credit Card Numbers, IT World, Tim Greene, Feb. 6, 2015, available at http://www.itworld.com/article/2880960/anthem-hack-personal-data-stolen-sells-for-10x-price-of-stolen-credit-card-numbers.html (last visited March 31, 2020).

[3] Supra at n. 12.

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