Identity theft occurs when someone uses your name, Social Security number, date of birth and/or other identifying information — without your permission — to commit fraud.

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One of the biggest areas of growth with identity theft is tax theft. An identity thief may use your Social Security number to file an income tax return and obtain a refund using your information.

Or, your Social Security number may be sold to an undocumented individual. If someone else uses your Social Security number to get a job, the employer may report that person’s income to the IRS. When you file your tax return, those earnings won’t be reported by you, and the IRS will notify you that you received wages, but didn’t report them.

If your identity has been stolen, and you receive a notice from the IRS about unreported wages, or that your return has already been filed, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at (800) 908-4490.

Be cautious when you are asked to provide your Social Security number in a job search, especially if it’s asked for in an application or online form. Carefully check out any companies that send you an unsolicited job application or offer before providing any personal information (especially your Social Security number).

Also be careful of how much personal information about yourself you disclose publicly on social media sites. Identity thieves can use that information to answer “challenge” questions on your financial accounts, getting access to your money.

Be proactive to avoid being the victim.

Manage your online presence to minimize opportunities for identity theft. Use passwords that contain letters, numbers, and symbols — and do not use the same password for multiple sites. If a scammer asks you to set up a username and password for accessing a company website, and you use the same password for your financial accounts online, they can access them without your knowledge.

Request your free annual credit report from the three national service providers (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax). Obtain yours through You can receive a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each credit reporting company, which allows you to spot possible identity theft. Some job seekers choose to pull a report from one bureau every four months, so you receive all three reports for free in a calendar year. Checking your credit report is important as some companies will request access to your credit report as a condition of employment, so identifying and correcting errors is critical.

If you have been victimized, you can place a fraud alert on your credit report, which lets potential credit grantors know that you’ve been a victim of identity fraud. (You can remove the alert at any time). Once you notify one of the national service providers, they will notify the other two companies. If you place a fraud alert, you are entitled to a copy of all of the information in your credit report at each of the three major credit-reporting companies. You can also place a security freeze on your credit report, which prevents new credit applications from being issued.

Having a job search plan is a good defense. It may help to work with a career service professional who can help you develop a plan and create processes to stay on track. Be focused on your job goal and mindful of the information you share on social media