Today, my assistant Bridget takes over the blog to share her tale of identity theft and how she handled the ensuing mayhem.
I do a lot of independent contractor work. I serve as a producer and production manager for live events, theater, etc, which usually mean I’m running a team of people. And depending on the level of the project, sometimes those jobs require submitting to a background check. Recently, I was offered the chance to work an amazing gig, and I was over the moon! I got the hiring paperwork and filled it out no problem.
Two days later I get a slew of text messages and phones calls saying I needed to call the hiring manager immediately because there was a problem. I’m thinking I missed a form or something, but no. I get the manager on the line and the first question out of her mouth is “can you please elaborate on your alias?”
Excuse me, what?!? Alias? Turns out when they ran the background check a name other than mine came up with my Social Security number. Sounds like something out of a LifeLock commercial, right? I immediately called my father in a panic saying someone had stolen my identity. Neither one of us were sure how seeing as how all credit cards were intact and the IRS had just let me apply for an EIN for my shiny new production company. We spun our wheels for the rest of the day trying to figure out how this happened and we were stumped. The theory the police had come up with was that someone gotten arrested panicked and pulled some random number out of the air that happened to be mine. Apparently this happens more than you think. But we found levity in the situation by saying “Well if there is anything that happened in my life that I regret I can blame Jane Doe here”. The point is I’m here to let you know that if this happens to you, it’s okay. It’s a pain, but you will get through it.
Here are the top things I learned from having my identity stolen:
1. Do NOT panic!
It’s very easy to get frazzled and have your brain start running in circles when things like this happen. It is imperative to keep a level head and assess your situation.
2. Lock everything down
I didn’t know this but there is a way to lock your Social Security number so that no one can use it, similar to a credit freeze. It’s a fairly simple process of calling the Social Security Administration and providing your personal details over the phone. It can be done in under 30 minutes. But be warned it does take two weeks if you want to unlock it, the process to unlock it is the same. You call and provide your information, but it’s the SSA system that takes so long to have the lock lifted. Despite this hold, it’s important to lock it down when dealing with identity theft so no one other than you can open a bank account, buy a house, or get a job with the number. Then, immediately change your passwords to your bank account, credit cards, and any other sensitive information.
3. Pull your credit report
I didn’t find out my identity had been stolen until the end of the day. So I spent all night trying to gather as much information as I could. Under federal law, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three bureaus, Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian, once per year. You can go to annualcreditreport.com to easily pull your credit reports. Make sure you don’t see any new accounts or loans taken out in your name. And if you do see something suspicious call the lender or credit card company it’s registered to immediately. You will need to prove that you are not the one who has taken out the loan or opened the credit card, but most companies have entire departments dedicated to this sort of thing.They will guide you through their process and help you as best they can.
4. Contact SSA
At the first chance you get, go down to your local Social Security Administration (SSA) office. There’s no need to make an appointment, you can just walk in, but be aware that is like the DMV. You could be there waiting for a while. Bring all documentation you possibly can with you. For me I went down with a copy of my background check and credit report. It is your legal right to see your background check, so be sure to request yours if this happens to you. And bring two forms of ID. When I was sitting there talking to the agent she told me that I was the first person she ever saw to actually bring the background check in with them. The more information you provide them the better they can help you.
5. Pull your IRS records
Some people will try to work under your SSN. Now the SSA can pull your work records for you and verify your work history for a few extra minutes of your time. And they will go as far back as your first job. For those who are independent contractors be ready to verify every time you made $100 and it was reported to the IRS. If there is nothing suspicious on the record do not ask for a copy. A copy of the record can range from $150 to $300, because the SSA doesn’t own the records and to get an appointment at the IRS can take weeks, so if you see no issue with it don’t pay for it. Just let them verify everything with you verbally.
6. Replace and report
The SSA offers you up to 10 replacement cards in your lifetime and they are FREE! I was told that replacing the card can knock off any fraudulent activity from a background check, especially if this is the first time it’s happened. Your SSN stays the same but the serial number on the back of the card changes. Next file an official report. The SSA can usually take this for you, but you should also file with the local police, and the Federal Trade Commission. This is incase there is fraudulent activity, you would have proof of working to resolve it. It’s also in case someone commits a crime and your SSN is given (yes, that can happen) that way it can be expunged from your record.
After all that the next steps will depend on your situation. I can’t stress enough how important it is to remain calm. This can get very scary but the more you let it freak you out the worse it will be. And if this happens during the hiring process be as up front and as accommodating to the hiring staff as possible. They are usually willing to work with you if you are willing to jump through a few extra hoops. And that’s it, hopefully you never need this advice!
You can also find more advice about how to handle identity theft on the Federal Trade Commission website.