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Q: A few years ago, I lost my Social Security card. Now my credit report shows that someone might be using my Social Security number. I'm afraid they might ruin my credit. What should I do?

A: Identity theft and fraud are serious problems, not just for you, but for the financial integrity of our agency. It also puts our national security at risk if someone dangerous is using your number to obtain other forms of identification. It's against the law to use someone else's Social Security number, give false information when applying for a number, or alter, buy, or sell Social Security cards. Keep in mind, you should never carry your Social Security card with you. If you think someone is using your Social Security number fraudulently, you should report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) right away. You can report it at www.idtheft.gov or you can call FTC's hotline at 877-438-4261 (TTY: 866-653-4261).

Q: I know someone who believes it's not a big deal to cheat a little on their Supplemental Security Income application. What can I tell them to dissuade them from giving false information?

A: Social Security not only seeks criminal charges against and imprisonment of people who give false, incomplete or inaccurate information, we also have the authority to impose civil monetary penalties against people who commit fraud. When we find evidence that someone provided false information or withheld information that would have prevented him or her or someone else from collecting benefits, we can impose a civil monetary penalty of up to $5,000 for each occurrence. We are also authorized to impose administrative sanctions. During a sanction period, benefits stop. The sanction periods are 6 months for the first occurrence, 12 months for the second occurrence, and 24 months for each additional occurrence. You can report fraud online at http://oig.ssa.gov/report or call the Social Security Fraud Hotline at 800-269-0271.

This column was prepared by the Social Security Administration.

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