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Identity theft---how does it work?

If the bad guys are able to get your name, address and social security number, what do they do with that information? I can see how they might be able to get into one's bank account ( if they knew what bank), but the term "identity theft" suggests far more than that. Apparently they set up fake accounts pretending to be you? I can see how this would affect one's credit rating, but there must be more at risk than that? What can one do to stop it? (Not me but an older relative, very unsavvy tech wise.)

Posted by
8597 posts

Sasha, with those pieces of information, they can apply for credit in your name, including new credit cards, auto loans, mortgages, etc. Then use those loans to defraud retailers etc. That ruins your credit, when the lenders come after you.

Posted by
3180 posts

Jazz---it is travel-related because he lost his wallet while traveling. He asked me for advice and I immediately advised him to cancel the credit and debit card. Now I am trying to figure out what else he needs to do to protect himself and his family. My aunt is very unhappy about this---family peace is at stake!

Posted by
3180 posts

It wasn't his social security card it was his Medicare card. He thought he might need it if he had a medical emergency. They are in their 80's and do not travel much.

Posted by
14163 posts

"can't believe they would print the number on the medicaid card"

Actually it's Medicare not Medicaid and your Medicare # IS your Social Security number followed by a letter. (A if you are on your own SS account, B if you are on a spouse's account, C if you qualified for Medicare and a disabled child, etc).

And yes, I carry my Medicare card with me when I travel. I drive 40 miles to the airport then usually have to transit thru 2 airports so there is plenty of time I am in the US during my travel to Europe.

Sasha, I would also recommend if he lives in a smaller city to go by his local SS office to talk with a rep. They do a lot on the phone but he might be more comfortable if he can discuss this face to face with someone. A larger city will possibly have an office with longer wait times and in that instance it might be easier if he just used the phone to discuss it with a SSA representative.

Posted by
23432 posts

The most common and frequent form of identity theft is the opening of credit card accounts, on-line loan accounts, etc. These accounts can quickly be hit for thousands of dollars. In 30 days you start getting bills from everywhere but by then the crooks have moved on to someone else.

Posted by
1878 posts

The main damage that occurs as a result of identity theft is that criminals will use it to steal and perpetrate fraud as others have stated. One time I receive a bill for Verizon wireless service out of the blue, which was weird because I was not a Verizon customer. Someone signed up for an account with my name and social security number (I guess). They even used my real street address. This was back when they had contracts and gave you a free phone for committing to two years--the thief basically did this for the free phone because obviously I was going to cancel service when I got the bill. My personal information has been compromised at least three times, one through a former employer, one through an educational institution, and once through a health care organization. In this situation I think they were required to provide me with an identity monitoring service (I think mostly it just lets you check your credit rating you want and maybe provides alerts). This situation is different but your friend could easily get the same service for piece of mind, for a fee. Check with the major credit reporting agencies, they are even required by law to provide one free credit report per year. The person who finds the wallet might very well take the cash and throw the rest out. They might sell your credit card numbers online or your SSN. By all means the first thing you do is cancel the lost credit and debit cards, that's a no-brainer. Losing credit cards does not need to be a big deal as long as you act promptly to cancel.

Posted by
891 posts

I'm not sure where the relative was traveling, but Medicare will not pay ANYTHING if you are anywhere outside of the US. This is what we were told before our first European trip after getting on Medicare, so we leave those cards at home and never carry our social security cards.

I agree it would be better not to have the SS# on the medicare cards, but no one asked me!

Posted by
198 posts

The best place to start is the Federal Trade Commission. They have an entire section on identity theft. Also, he should contact all the credit reporting agencies and put a fraud alert on his account -- Equifax, Trans Union and Experion.

He should also make a police report and notify the IRS. Even if he doesn't file a tax return, a fake one could be filed with his SS# claiming refunds.

Good luck to him.

Posted by
3180 posts

Who said he was traveling overseas? They spent two weeks in Florida ( where he actually needed his Medicare card) before boarding a ship for a Carribbean cruise. How should he have handled the Medicare card in these circumstances? You seem determined to blame him, but others have mentioned that they too were unaware the SSN is on the Medicard card.

Maybe it is time for the SSA to acknowledge this issue and assign a different number for Medicare cards.

Many thanks to those who provided useful information and links,,especially Kaeleku---that Huffington Post article is helpful. I will suggest to him that he do the fraud alert or credit freeze ( at his age he is not going to be applying for a mortgage, a job, or a car loan!).

So far nothing bad has happened be Inwill help him keep monitoring.

Posted by
4998 posts


Please consider this. He should put a fraud alert on his credit reports at Equifax, Trans Union, and Experian. Notifying one of them automatically notifies the other two. They are usually only good for 90 days but can be renewed.

What is even better is placing a "credit freeze" on his credit reports with those credit reporting agencies -- each must be done separately. At his age they should be free and they will prevent anyone from getting a credit report and opening a bogus account in his name -- and that happens all the time. The agencies will provide him with a PIN to unfreeze the account if needed.

The IRS should also be notified as filing bogus returns has become a lucrative scam. The IRS will provide him win a PIN for filing his 2017 returns to combat that scam. Simply to request a fraud alert with them.

Even though "...he is not going to be applying for a mortgage, a job, or a car loan!...", fraudulent activity can have an impact on his credit score which many insurers of homes and autos use to set premiums.

The credit freeze is a great preventive measure to avoid fraud that can have a big economic impact. It cost nothing, will take less than half a day to do, and will prevent a lot of hassle in the future.

Good to know nothing bad has happened so far. Acting quickly will hopefully prevent them from happening at all.

Posted by
3180 posts

Thanks, TC. What I meant by my comment that he will not be applying for a mortgage, etc. is simply that placing a credit freeze will not have any adverse effect on them or cause any inconvenience. I will indeed advise him to do that ( and probably will have to help)!

I think my aunt is starting to calm down now. Yesterday was rough, especially after she saw the remark that he should not have been carrying his Social Security card ( which he wasn't).

Posted by
4171 posts

What Pam said.

I also carry my Medicare card. And my Medicare supplement insurance card. That's because anything can happen between my house and my arrival at my European destination or on the way home at the end of my trip. I don't carry my SS card at any time. It's in a safety deposit box at my local credit union.

As far as ID theft or CC fraud goes, that can happen anywhere, anytime. It's happened to me twice with the same card provider. In both cases it came from hacked retailers, specifically Home Depot and Target. In neither case did I lose my card or have it stolen. Fortunately, that CC provider blocks or puts a hold on honoring any out of character charges and calls me immediately about them.

Please tell your friends not to beat themselves up too much about this. They need to take a deep breath, do all the things already suggested and have their cards replaced. It's good of you to help them.

Posted by
255 posts

The response from TC is exactly right. If your relative also lives in Washington as you do, steer him to this page on the Attorney General's website Note that all Washington residents can get a freeze for free, but they need a police report. In my personal experience it was easy to get from the local police.

Posted by
347 posts

A very costly form of identity theft is the filing of fraudulent federal tax returns to steal from the US and me. Whoever has your family members SSN and address has enough to file a return. They don't need any wage or information statements...they make those up.

To prevent the impact of a fraudulent filing of federal tax returns in his name, he should file a form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, checking Box 2 in Section B indicating an event has occurred that could lead to identity theft. You can also do this for him by checking Box 4 in Section A indicating you are filing the form on behalf of an other person who is not your dependent.

This will put an alert on his account. This is important whether he has a federal tax return filing requirement or not.

What is the impact on you if someone files a federal tax return using our SSN? The processing of your tax return will be delayed, as much as 180 days. If you expect a refund, it will be delayed. That is why I encourage everyone to plan their federal tax payments (withholding and estimated payments) to prevent a refund. It is better to owe a bit to the US Treasury than to wait an extended period of time to get the giant refund you are counting on for your next European vacation. On the bright side, the interest rate paid to you for the delay is better than any current bank rate.

As long as we're on the topic of fraud...the IRS does call taxpayers (especially NOT ON A WEEKEND as my sister just reported) to report they are suing the taxpayer. If you owe, your first contact will NOT be a telephone call (or an email...never an's not secure) to demand immediate payment. IRS will NEVER EVER asks anyone to make a payment by putting the funds on a gift card. These fraudsters often target the elderly and foreign nationals who are not familiar with our ta system.

Oh, and the US Marshalls are not coming to your house because of a supposed tax debt either.

Posted by
11613 posts

You don't need to contact all credit bureaus, call one and they will notify the other two. This info is on their fraud message, which I used today 😖.

Posted by
3521 posts

As of 2018, all Medicare cards will be reissued and have a new unique number that is NOT the SSN.

I know that's no help here, but at least someone in the government was awake enough to decide to make the change.