Identity Protection, Social Security, Taxes & Credit
Identity Theft and SSN
Identity theft occurs when someone steals the information that will personally identify you and uses it to make financial transactions. This information can include your Social Security number, credit card number, birth date, phone number and/or address.
The Social Security Administration created an 8 page on line publication to address the questions that arise when someone’s social security card or number is stolen.
As mentioned in the publication: “Show your card to your employer when you start a job so your records are correct. Provide your Social Security number to your financial institution(s) for tax reporting purposes. Keep your card and any other document that shows your Social Security number on it in a safe place. DO NOT routinely carry your card or other documents that display your number.”
“phishing,” occurs when thieves pose as financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information such as SSN, bank account and credit card information. Please note that no bank or credit card company will ask for your information by Internet or phone. Never click on unsolicited links included in emails, even from what may appear to be trusted sources (e.g., your bank). Often these are email scams or lures to malicious web sites.
Another popular method used in identity theft is an email message saying you have access to a huge amount of money (usually in Nigeria or Iraq) and someone can help you collect it. Or you might receive an offer to participate in a joint venture where you provide a certain amount upfront and gain a percentage of profits. All of these are scams and fraudulent.
Other ways to protect your identity
Always guard carefully any and all personal information, including passwords, log-ins and account information and especially your SNN. Shred important and confidential documents when you wish to dispose of them. Use a shredder to dispose of sensitive data (credit card bills, bank statements) and don’t leave these documents where others (roommates, friends) can view them.
Also, consider limiting the amount and type of identity information you post on social networking sites.
Secure Web Sites: Whether shopping, banking, or paying bills, you need to make sure that the information you share online is secure and will not be used by anyone else. Make sure the site is secure by looking for the “s” on the end of “http” in the URL line of your browser. If you do not see this, find somewhere else to shop.
Signature: Consider writing “See ID” on the back of credit and debit cards, so if they are ever stolen, thieves will not be able to use them as easily. Put your picture on your card if your financial institution offers this service.
List of Numbers: Keep a list of all credit cards/debit card numbers, as well as phone numbers to call, if you need to report a lost or stolen card.
Mail: Check and empty your postal mailbox every day. Often, preapproved credit card offers contain personal information and have “special offer” codes that anyone can use to misrepresent themselves as you when calling the toll-free number. Be sure to shred these offers.
Information from the U.S. Government: http://www.usdoj.gov/criminal/fraud/websites/idtheft.html
What to do when your identity has been stolen
If you believe your identity has been stolen, visit the U.S. Federal Trade Commission Web site at www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft for information on what to do and file a report with your local police department. One way, also, to keep informed on the security of your personal information is to check your credit history (See Credit History, below) to see if any credit cards, loans or bank accounts have been opened under your SSN without your permission. To check, contact one of the three credit-reporting firms in the U.S.:
You can obtain a free credit report from www.annualcreditreport.com and can also request that the three credit reporting firms put additional security measures on your account such as additional steps of verifying identity or “freeze”/lock your account. Also, some banks or private organizations will allow you to use their services as an identity theft monitoring agent.
Credit History and the SSN
In the United States, a credit history shows your past record of paying bills, loans, etc. and is used to ensure you are reliable and able to take care of your financial obligations (fiscally responsibility). Unfortunately, although it was never its intended purpose, the Social Security Number became the requested identification number in the United States used to check personal credit history and is still usually asked for when you are being considered as a tenant, opening accounts or installing services. Landlords, banks and service companies use your SSN to request a credit history report. Your credit history is kept by three credit-reporting firms in the U.S.: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, as mentioned above.
If you are an international student without an SSN, you probably don’t have a credit history in the United States and this is why you may be asked to pay higher security deposits for housing and services or be restricted in the type of bank accounts you can open. Unfortunately, if you do not meet the eligibility requirements to be granted an SSN, you cannot obtain one merely for identification purposes.
How do I establish a credit history?
If you are eligible to obtain a Social Security number and use it as identification obtain credit cards, loans, etc., be sure to take care of your financial obligations in a timely manner. One way to build “credit” is to obtain a U.S. credit card and pay all your bills on time and in full but please note your use or misuse of U.S. credit cards becomes a key part of your credit history. Over time and if fiscally responsible, you will develop a good credit history in the United States which can be used to request better rates or lower deposits on loans, services etc. However, if you miss payments or your bills go to a collection agency, you may have great difficulty in renting, getting financial assistance or obtaining loans/credit in the future.
Building a good Credit History:
F.I.C.A. Taxes (Social Security & Medicare)
F.I.C.A. stands for the Federal Insurance Contributions Act which is a taxation on income earned where the funds are used for federal programs that provide benefits for U.S. citizens and permanent residents when they retire, are disabled, or are the children of deceased workers. Funds withheld for F.I.C.A. are reflected on paycheck stubs and also in boxes 4 and 6 of your W-2.
Internationals and F.I.C.A.
F-1 and J-1 student visa holders are typically exempt from paying F.I.C.A. taxes for their first 5 years in the United States and these taxes should not be deducted from paychecks. The mechanism for the exemptions are found under Internal Revenue Code 3121 (b)(19) and is available to persons in F-1, J-1, M-1 and Q immigration status. It is a blanket exemption with the only qualification being that the person be a nonresident for tax purposes and that the work is authorized (CPT, OPT, AT). IRS Publication 519 is a good resource, specifically pages 44 and 45.
Obtaining Reimbursements of F.I.C.A. Witholdings
If your employer has mistakenly withheld F.I.C.A. taxes, you must work with them directly to request a reimbursement. If they will not assist you, you can file Internal Revenue Service (IRS) forms 843 or 8316 to request reimbursement. Please note that J-2’s with work authorization are not exempt from FICA taxes. www.irs.gov.