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What To Do If Your Social Security Number Is Found On the Dark Web

Imagine receiving a notification from Lifelock or your credit card company informing you that your social security number has been discovered on the dark web. In the digital era, it is becoming increasingly common for personal information to be compromised, and figuring out how your information was exposed is rare. This could have resulted from swiping your credit card, attending an educational institution, providing your information to your doctor, or even a breach that occurred through your employer. Unfortunately, this has happened to me, and I will provide you with tips to safeguard yourself if your information is discovered on the dark web.

How to Protect Your Identity if Your Social Security Number is Leaked on the Dark Web

Credit Freeze vs. Credit Lock

Credit Freeze

A credit freeze is similar to a credit lock, but a credit freeze provides you with more protection when opening new accounts in your name. When you place a credit freeze on your account and want to get credit in the future, you will need to lift the freeze from your account. If you call on the phone or visit an agency online the freeze can take about an hour to be removed from your account. You will also need to remember the pin numbers you were provided to lift the freeze, so keeping all your pin numbers in a safe place is important.

Credit freezes are also free because they are mandated and governed by federal law, but they are slower to activate and deactivate than a credit lock.

Credit Locks

Credit locks also prevent access to opening an account in your name. However, they aren't as restrictive as a credit freeze. If someone has access to your social security number, date of birth, and other sensitive information, they can provide this to the creditor and open an account in your name. Also, since they don't require a PIN number to unlock or lock your credit, you may be susceptible to future identity theft problems.

Unlike credit freezes, credit locks may or may not be free, but they are faster to put on your account than a freeze. However, they are not governed by federal law, so you aren't offered legal protection besides what the credit bureau provides.

You should use a credit freeze for significant data breaches of your identity theft, such as the exposure of your social security number. You can use a credit lock in instances where your Amazon account, credit card account, or other smaller breaches have occurred.

See my feature in The Penny Hoarder: 9 Habits of People With 800 Credit Scores

Bank Security Freeze

It is crucial to have a bank security freeze to protect your identity from being stolen and used by someone else to open a bank account in your name. This could lead to the misuse of your finances or even result in money laundering, causing significant harm to your financial reputation. By placing a security freeze on your ChexSystems report, you can limit access and make it difficult for anyone to open an account in your name.

My Social Security Number was Found on the Dark Web

Utilities Security Freeze

Identity thieves can open phone, electricity, water, and other utility accounts, accruing charges in your name and damaging your credit. Like a credit freeze, a utility security freeze restricts access to your utility account information. This helps prevent identity thieves from opening new utility accounts in your name and racking up charges you may end up being responsible for. There's a central organization called the National Consumer Telecom & Utilities Exchange (NCTUE) that manages utility security freezes.

How Does the Utility Freeze Work

  • Access to Your Information is Limited: With the freeze in place, utility companies that subscribe to the NCTUE service won't be able to access your full account history. It is important to note that not all utility companies participate in the NCTUE service.

  • Temporary Lifting: If you're applying for a new utility service, you'll need to lift the freeze temporarily. This can usually be done online or by phone through the NCTUE. Remember to refreeze your report after your application is processed.

Employment Data Freeze

I reached out to E-Verify to request a freeze on my employment data. As someone who works in human resources, I understand the significance of safeguarding your employment information. Placing a freeze on your account is crucial in protecting yourself against identity theft, which can lead to false employment and unreported wages, potentially resulting in an IRS audit. This freeze is particularly important as it prevents unauthorized access to your work status information, which is often used for background screening and verification by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

The Work Number is an organization that may have access to your prior employment history. Many lenders use The Work Number to verify your employment and compensation history when you apply for credit. Limiting access to this data is crucial to ensure that your employment history information is not used to obtain a personal or mortgage loan, among other types of credit.

Requesting an Identity Protection PIN

When filing your taxes, you may have noticed a checkbox asking if you or your spouse received an identity theft pin. It's easy to overlook and mark "n" without much thought. However, it is crucial to be aware that identity thieves who gain employment using your name could file a tax return on your behalf and prevent you from filing your taxes on time. They could also receive your expected tax refund or even lead you to pay taxes for income that you did not earn. Therefore, it is essential to take this step seriously and obtain an identity theft pin from the IRS to prevent this type of fraud.

When I filed my taxes recently, I located my Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN), but it had expired, so the IRS rejected my return. I had to request a new PIN since it was only valid for one tax year. Luckily, I had already set up my IRS account online, so I was easily able to retrieve a new IP PIN and file my taxes successfully.

What Next in Protecting Your Identity?

Taking proactive steps to safeguard your personal information is essential in today's digital age. Adding a freeze or lock on credit, bank security freeze, utilities security freeze, and employment data freeze can significantly reduce the risk of identity theft. These tips are practical, easy to implement, and can make a significant difference in protecting your financial and personal information. So, don't wait for an unfortunate incident to occur. Take the necessary steps today to protect yourself from identity theft and stay safe online!

If you need assistance with protecting your identity, get assistance today.

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