As the threat of identity theft continues to rise yearly, it’s important to watch out for signs that someone is using your Social Security number (SSN).

Criminals can use SSNs to obtain government-issued documents and identification, apply for loans or credit cards, file fraudulent tax returns, falsely claim government benefits and more. Identity theft can be highly damaging for the victim’s finances and credit scores. It can also take years to clean up if it goes undiscovered for too long.

4 Ways Someone Can Use Your Social Security Number

1. Opening Fraudulent Loans and Accounts.

Someone can use your SSN to open accounts in your name, including credit cards or bank accounts. Then, they can abuse these accounts as they wish, racking up debt or letting bills go unpaid. New accounts, unpaid bills and accounts in delinquency can land on your credit report and negatively impact your credit score.

2. Filing Falsified Tax Returns in Your Name to Claim a Tax Refund.

This can delay the processing of your legitimate tax return, including any refund you may be owed until the IRS straightens things out.

3. Receiving Medical Care Using Your Name and SSN.

You may not know that someone has been using your identity with medical providers for months or even years until you receive medical bills in the mail or see unpaid bills on your credit report. You can even receive improper medical treatment if the criminal’s medical history gets mixed up with yours.

4. Stealing Government Benefits.

Your SSN can enable a criminal to fraudulently claim government benefits. And if you already receive Social Security, EBT, unemployment, or SNAP benefits, someone can use your SSN to claim your benefits before you receive them.

Therefore, it’s crucial to identify when someone is using your SSN quickly. The faster you determine you’ve become a victim of identity theft, the faster you can help stop fraud in its tracks and work on recovering your identity.

How to Know If Someone is Using My SSN?

Identity theft protection is one of the best ways to know if someone is using your SSN. These services can monitor the dark web and other databases to see if your SSN is being used. They can alert you quickly, and a restoration specialist can be ready to help you.

Plus, most identity theft protection plans are affordable. But if you choose to monitor your SSN on your own, here are some ways to find out if someone is using your SSN:

Check Your Credit Report.

If someone has used your SSN to apply for a credit card or a loan or open other accounts in your name, your credit report is the first place the activity can appear. Look for accounts you don’t recognize or credit applications you never submitted.

Review Your Mail.

Don’t automatically toss out mail you think is junk or was sent by mistake. If you receive mail from companies you don’t do business with, including account statements or past due notices, it can be a sign that someone has opened an account with them using your identity.

Look Out for Government Communications.

Someone can use your SSN to claim benefits if you receive mail or other communications related to government benefits you don’t receive and never applied for.

File Your Tax Returns Quickly.

If the IRS receives your tax return and notifies you that a return has already been filed using your SSN, it means that someone has filed a fraudulent return using your identity.

Review Your Account Statements.

Unexplained charges on your credit cards and bank account statements can mean someone has gained access to your account. Even minor charges or withdrawals can indicate that a criminal is testing the waters before they make a larger purchase or try to empty your account.

Follow Up on Rejected Applications.

If your credit card or loan application is denied when you thought you had good credit, it’s possible that identity theft is harming your credit. If your application gets denied, the creditor is bound by law to inform you of their reasons for rejection.

Check Your Social Security Statement.

The Social Security Administration maintains a statement, which you can access online, that contains information about future Social Security benefits and current earnings.

The statement also shows if withdrawals have been taken against your earnings, indicating that someone is using your SSN to claim your benefits (unless those withdrawals are yours).

Look Out for Calls From Debt Collectors.

You have the right to ask debt collectors to stop calling, and you may want to if they’re calling for debts that aren’t yours. But it’s possible that they’re calling about debts opened fraudulently using your SSN, so it can be worth getting as much information as possible about the debt they’re calling about.

The Best Tips to Protect Your Social Security Number

Don’t Carry Your Social Security Card in Your Wallet.

If you lose your wallet, you lose your card, which can be easy for the person who discovers your wallet to commit identity theft.

Keep Your Social Security to Yourself .

Only share your SSN if necessary. Also, never share your SSN through email or over the phone.

Protect or Shred Sensitive Documents with Your Social Security Number.

Documents with your SSN should be stored securely in your home. Otherwise, if you no longer need these documents, it’s suggested to shred these documents in a high-quality shredder.

Consider Signing up for Identity Theft Protection to Monitor Your SSN.

Identity theft and credit monitoring services are dedicated to safeguarding your personal information. For example, IdentityIQ will provide real-time fraud and SSN alerts, plus experts ready to assist you.