Forewarned is forearmed! Identity theft is something everyone moving to America should be cognizant of. Thankfully, no one close to me has yet been a victim of this scary situation. But no introduction to social security numbers (SSNs) can be complete without a reference to the concept.
Have you seen the Hollywood movie, 'The Net', starring Sandra Bullock? The movie shows a fictitious, exaggerated version of identity theft, but nonetheless gives you an idea. Identity theft occurs when someone uses a piece of personal information to impersonate you without your knowledge, and commit fraud. While this can happen anywhere, the reason its a more prevalent concept in the US is due to the ubiquitous use of social security numbers as a personal identifier. Many banks and institutions use SSNs to authenticate a person's identity, and implicitly assume an SSN would be known only to its owner. So if your SSN does fall in the wrong hands, you could become a victim.
The most common misuse of someone else's SSN is credit card fraud. The perpetrator calls up a credit card company, pretends to be the victim, and obtains a new crediit card on which he runs up huge bills. Obtaining a cell phone connection, utilities, bank accounts, even employement are other ways in which an identity thief could cheat you.
That is why you should never reveal your social security number to anyone, unless to an institution you trust, and for obtaining a service.
If you do feel you might become a victim (for instance, if your wallet gets stolen with your personal information in it), or if you are already a victim (for example, if you suddenly see credit card charges you never incurred), you must take immediate action.
Click here for an excellent government website that guides you on the protective measures to take,
in such a situation.
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