Stealing a Social Security number (SSN) to get a job might seem like a strange thing to do. However, many employers review applicants’ credit history before making a hire, especially for jobs that require financial responsibility or a security clearance, which means negative records could be a barrier to a paycheck for some people. Rather than face perhaps certain rejection, they apply using a SSN other than their own. This could be just a string of nine random numbers that happens to match your SSN, but it could also be a sign of more serious encroachment into your personal information.
That’s one way an unrecognized employer could make its way onto your credit report. But it’s not the only one. “It could happen if an identity thief lists an employer on a credit application using your identity,” said Michael Bruemmer, vice president of consumer protection at Experian. “When that application information is provided to a credit bureau, the name of that unknown employer would be added to the list of employers in your credit history.”
It’s important to recognize these possibilities if you don’t recognize an employer on your credit report. Employers are required to get permission from a job applicant prior to performing a credit check, so you likely would have known this update was coming if it were legitimate — and if you’re job hunting to begin with.
So, here’s what you should do now to get answers and limit the damage:
Immediate Steps To Take
- Review All Three Of Your Major Credit Reports: You already have your TransUnion credit report from WalletHub, and while Experian and Equifax credit reports contain largely the same information, there are some differences in terms of their data sources and the financial institutions that use them. Seeing how, and if, this suspicious employer is listed on your other reports may provide additional context into whether it’s fraudulent or legitimate. This will also give you a chance to review the other employers listed on each of your reports to make sure they’re accurate.
Everyone is entitled to a free copy of each of their major credit reports every 12 months through the government-sponsored website AnnualCreditReport.com. If you have been turned down for credit in the past 60 days, you also have the right to a free copy of the credit report the lender used to make its decision.
- Get In Touch With All Employers You Don’t Recognize: You should be able to find contact information for the unrecognized employer either directly from your credit report or by searching for the company’s name online. The employer likely will be eager to get to the bottom of the issue as well, but it’s important to note that companies make it a practice not to disclose information about employees to “outsiders.” So ask to speak with a manager and make sure to explain the situation clearly. Take detailed notes, including the name and direct phone number of whomever you talk to, and ask what the next steps should be. Be very careful about providing too much information about yourself, especially if you are not familiar with the company in question.
- Place A Security Freeze (And Fraud Alert) On All Three Reports: A security freeze completely prevents most parties from viewing your credit report, though exceptions do exist, such as for the government, existing creditors, collection agencies, creditors who prescreen you for offers and yourself. You must contact TransUnion, Experian and Equifax individually to put a freeze on each report, and a fee may apply each time you freeze and unfreeze a report.
However, the cost — $2 to $15, depending on your state — pales in comparison to the value of gaining complete control of your credit reports and thereby preventing anyone from applying for or opening a credit account without your consent. That’s especially true when you consider that many states allow the elderly and victims of identity theft to freeze and unfreeze their credit reports for free.
“It is the best, cheapest, and most effective thing that someone can do,” said Steven J. Weisman, a senior lecturer of law, taxation and financial planning at Bentley University and author of numerous books about identity theft.
Another thing you’ll want to do is ask TransUnion to put a fraud alert on your credit report. TransUnion will be legally required to notify the other two major bureaus, and you will receive a confirmation letter from each one after the alert has been added to your file. It will remain in place for at least 90 days, even if you lift the security freeze on a report, warning potential creditors that you might be a victim of identity theft.
- File An Identity Theft Complaint With The FTC: You can file a formal identity theft complaint with the Federal Trade Commission through its online complaint form. Once you have submitted your complaint, the FTC will generate an Identity Theft Affidavit. It is very important that you save and print this document, as it can only be viewed once through the online system.
The FTC Identity Theft Affidavit is a critical supporting document for investigations into suspected identity theft.
- File A Report With Your Local Police Department: Bring a copy of your FTC Identity Theft Affidavit to your local police department, along with a government-issued ID, proof of your address (e.g., a mortgage or utility bill) and any additional documentation you have concerning the unrecognized employer. This will enable you to file an official police report, which, together with your FTC affidavit, will comprise your “Identity Theft Report.”
People often are hesitant to report a seemingly minor sign of identity theft to the police, but it’s important to remember that taking this step — which may be as simple as filling out and submitting a form at the station — is more of a procedural milestone than the beginning of an active investigation by law enforcement.
- Complete & Mail An IRS Identity Theft Affidavit: The Internal Revenue Service has its own identity theft affidavit, which you should submit in the interest of preventing employer-related fraud from impacting how much you owe in taxes or your ability to claim a tax refund.
Just fill out this form and mail it – along with a copy of your FTC Identity Theft Affidavit, police report and driver’s license – to the following address:
Internal Revenue Service
PO Box 9039
Andover MA 01810-0939
- Dispute Employer You Don’t Recognize With The Respective Credit Bureau(s): While you can certainly dispute an unknown employer earlier in the process, getting your both your FTC and IRS affidavits as well as your police report first may help the investigation proceed more efficiently. For each credit report on which you find an unknown employer, follow the respective bureau’s steps for reporting and disputing the issue (see below). The credit bureau will then send that employer a request for verification. “Generally within 30 days, the source must verify your account data,” Bruemmer said.
Hopefully, this process will result in the removal of any inaccurate employers from your credit reports and enable you to handle any related identity theft. Keep in mind, however, that there are a few additional identity theft prevention steps that you may want to take, just to be safe, given that an unrecognized employer can be the precursor to other types of fraud.