Your Social Security number is required in a number of different ways from filing tax returns to obtaining a loan. You are generally even required to provide your Social Security number and present your Social Security card when starting a new job. However, it is not a smart idea to have your SSN floating around everywhere. You should do everything possible to protect your SSN from thieves. If this number gets into the wrong hands, it can have severe consequences. Identity thieves can use your personal information to wreak havoc on your finances and cause you to waste hours of your time attempting to undo the damage. So, what are the best ways to protect your Social Security number? We will discuss those here, so just keep reading.
Why Protect Your Social Security Number
You should protect your number because it can have dire consequences if it is stolen. If you are the victim of ID theft, then it can be extremely difficult to undo the damage. First, a lost or stolen number can wreak havoc on your personal finances. You might find yourself owing money on loans or credit cards that you never even applied for. This information will be reported on your credit report, and you will be on the hook for paying back the money – at least initially. This can prevent you from obtaining credit that you truly need like a car loan or mortgage as well.
Left unprotected, your Social Security number could be used by thieves and you might need to spend hours attempting to undo the damage. You will have to file police reports, contact the credit reporting agencies, file disputes with lenders, and take many other steps that could have been avoided. Keeping your number safe and secure can save you countless hours and dollars in the long run. Interestingly enough, SSNs were never intended to act as the universal identifiers that they are today. According to the history of Social Security, they were originally only intended to track tax payments into the Social Security system and eligibility for benefits.
How A Thief Can Use Your SSN
You might be wondering why it would even matter if a thief obtained your SSN. What can you do with a Social Security number anyway? Unfortunately, there are a number of ways that a thief can use your SSN, and none of them are good. First, they might use your number to simply access bank accounts or credit card accounts. Once they gain access, they have the ability to transfer funds or make purchases using your accounts. They might also decide to apply for new credit in your name. Once the loan or new account is obtained, they transfer the money to their own account, and they disappear – leaving you to repay the money.
In addition to credit and financial damage, a thief might also get you into legal trouble with the IRS. They could use your Social Security number and personal data to file fraudulent tax returns. The Internal Revenue Service might come knocking on your door without you ever knowing that this fraud had taken place. Finally, someone could use your SSN to create an online account with the Social Security Administration (SSA). After doing this, they could divert your Social Security benefits to their own account or perform other unwanted changes to your Social Security account.
Ways To Keep Your SSN Safe
So, now that you know how much damage can occur from a lost or stolen Social Security number, how do you keep your SSN safe? There are several ways that you can keep your number safe, and here are the best ones.
Do Not Carry Your Social Security Card
If you are wondering how to protect your Social Security card, the answer is simple. Simply do not carry it. This increases the chances that you will lose it or leave it behind. This also increases the odds that a thief might obtain your card, thus obtaining your SSN. You should always keep your card in a safe place at home and only carry it along when absolutely necessary. This might be your first day on a new job or when you need to open a new account at the bank. On an average day, however, your card should be tucked away in its safe place so that it does not get lost.
Learn And Memorize Your Social Security Number
Though you should always protect your Social Security number, there are certain situations when your number is needed. This could be applying for a new car loan or opening a bank account. Memorizing your SSN will allow you to provide this information without the need to look at your Social Security card. Most of the time when you need your SSN, you simply need to know your number and do not need to present your actual Social Security card. In these cases, having your number memorized reduces the chances that your card gets lost or left behind. This is a great way to help keep your SSN safe.
Be Wary Of Sharing Your SSN Electronically
As we just mentioned, there are times when sharing your SSN is absolutely necessary. However, you should be careful of the method by which you share your number. Never send your SSN through email, especially email that is not secure and encrypted. Sending your SSN over email allows a perfect opportunity for hackers to intercept your SSN and use it illegally. In addition, entering your SSN into websites can be dangerous. If you must use a website to share your number, make absolutely certain that the website is secure and is not impersonating the site that you intended to use. Whenever possible, only share your SSN via paper documents or over the phone. Giving your Social Security number over the phone to a trusted source reduces the odds that your electronic communication will be intercepted and your number stolen.
Share Your SSN Sparingly
Though you are sometimes required to share your SSN with others, you should do so sparingly. Only share your number when absolutely necessary. There are some obvious times when it will be necessary. If you are applying for a loan, credit card, mortgage, or other type of credit, then you probably know that you will be required to share your SSN. However, you might sometimes be asked for your SSN at other places like a doctor’s office or school. If you are unsure whether it is required, ask someone why this information is needed. In many cases, you can simply provide another type of identification number like a driver’s license or birth date.
Beware Of Scams
There are many scams that go around attempting to steal your personal information, including your SSN. These scams take place via email, phone, and even standard mail. You should be on the lookout for these scams, and never provide your SSN to anyone who calls or emails you requesting it. Scammers will often impersonate your financial institution or even the IRS. They will tell you that there is a problem with your account, and that they need to verify your information. You might also encounter a scammer telling you that your Social Security number has been suspended. Whenever this happens, you should immediately hang up. You can always call your bank directly and ask whether they need information from you. Most will never call or email and ask you for this type of information.
Shred Old Documents
Some thieves will even dig through the trash looking for documents with personal information on them. Many types of documents even include your Social Security number. This includes tax returns and sometimes even bank statements. This is why you should always shred your old documents. With proper shredding, a thief will be unable to piece together any useful information from your old documents. Make sure that your shredder cuts the documents into many small pieces. If it simply cuts the paper into large strips, then a thief might still be able to piece the document back together and read the numbers quite easily.
Use Strong Passwords For Online Accounts
Most people today have established online accounts for their banking information and other important data. It is critical that you use strong passwords for these accounts. Otherwise, a thief might be able to easily guess your password and hack into your account. If they gain online access, then they will be able to view the account numbers and personal details associated with your account. You should use strong passwords, change the password regularly, and never use the same password across multiple accounts. This will help keep your information secure.
Register For A “My Social Security” Account
Even if you are not approaching retirement age, you should go ahead and register for a mySocialSecurity account at SSA.gov. This will prevent an identity thief from creating an account using your information. As mentioned above, make sure that you use a very strong password when you create this account. This will also help protect you from Medicare fraud and ensure that your information is not used with other government agencies like the Internal Revenue Service.
Keep An Eye On Financial Accounts
You should always check all your account statements on a regular basis. Checking them regularly helps ensure that you will notice any irregularities quickly. In addition, many credit card companies and other financial institutions will not allow you to dispute items that are older than 60 days.
Monitor Your Credit Report
This is one of the best ways to protect your Social Security number. You must keep a close eye on your credit report. You can obtain a free copy from each of the major credit bureaus at annualcreditreport.com. If someone is attempting to use your information to obtain credit, then it will appear on your credit report. The sooner you identify any issues, the sooner you can begin to correct issues and protect yourself from further financial damage.
Enroll In Identity Theft Protection
You should also consider enrolling in an identity theft protection service. This can be extremely useful when attempting to correct issues caused by a lost or stolen SSN. In addition, it can help provide SSN protection from further usage. The cost of these services is relatively inexpensive when you consider how much time and money they can save you. Most even include insurance that protects you financially from the fraudulent usage of your Social Security number.
Act Quickly If You Notice Issues
After following all the other steps, you should be alerted to any fraudulent activity using your SSN quickly. It is also imperative that you act quickly when you notice this type of activity. This can prevent further damage and harm to your finances or credit history. You should immediately take action and follow the advice laid out in the next section.
What To Do After An Identity Theft
You might wonder, “What do I do if I gave my Social Security number to a scammer?” There are several steps that you should take immediately following an identity theft or potential theft. First, you should notify the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and file a report of the theft at Identitytheft.gov. Next, you should file a report with your local police department. In many cases, you will need a police report to begin undoing the damage caused by the fraud. Go ahead and take a look at your free credit report to make sure that there are no additional items there that you were unaware of. At the same time, you should notify the credit reporting agencies like Equifax, Experian, and Transunion of the fraud. You can place a fraud alert on your Social Security number with these agencies. This alerts potential lenders to possible fraud on your SSN, and it makes them take additional steps to verify your identity prior to issuing new credit.
You might even want to go a step further and place a credit freeze on your SSN. This prevents anyone from even obtaining a copy of your credit report and credit score, so you can be sure that no new credit is issued until you remove the freeze. It is generally a good idea to sign up for credit monitoring at this time so that you can be immediately alerted to any new activity on your Social Security number. This can help you take immediate action when suspicious activity occurs.
The Bottom Line
Keeping your Social Security number safe from identity thieves is imperative to protecting your finances. There are many steps that you can take to help protect your SSN, and we have discussed some of the best ways here. If you still have your number stolen, then make sure that you immediately follow the steps laid out here to protect yourself from further damage.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I check to see if someone is using my Social Security number?
The best way to see if someone is using your SSN is by keeping a close eye on your credit report. This will alert you to the fact that someone is opening or attempting to open accounts in your name. You can also request your tax transcripts from the IRS to make sure that no one is filing tax returns using your information.
Can you put a freeze on your Social Security number?
Yes, you can request the credit reporting agencies to place a credit freeze on your account number. This essentially locks your information, and no one can obtain a copy of your credit history or score. This will block the issuance of new credit, and you can release the freeze should you need to apply for credit legitimately. Are you wondering how to lock your Social Security number? Simply notify the credit bureaus.
How do I get a new Social Security number?
New Social Security numbers are rarely issued, and this only happens in the worst identity theft cases. You must prove that the identity theft has been so bad that you cannot correct the issues without starting over with a new SSN. The Social Security Administration would then honor the request to issue you a new Social Security number. If you simply lost your card, then the SSA would issue a replacement Social Security card and advise you to closely monitor your credit file.
Can someone steal your Social Security number with your name?
Yes, these pieces of information are often stolen together. A Social Security number without a name does not typically do much good for a thief. They will need both pieces of identifying information to commit fraud and use your SSN for their own personal gain. A thief might steal both pieces of information from a lost Social Security card, a loan application, tax returns, or any other document that contains both of these pieces of information.