What to do when your unique identification number is compromised.
When it’s comes to identity theft, there’s no piece of information more valuable and essential that your Social Security number. You use it when you get jobs, complete forms at medical offices and other businesses, open bank accounts and get loans and credit cards.
There can be a thousand other people named John Smith, but there’s only one xxx-xx-4891 – at least there’s supposed to be. But when someone steals that unique identification number, it can be one of the most devastating (and difficult to disprove) forms of identity theft. That’s why you need to take every precaution possible to protect your Social Security number.
How can someone acquire your Social Security number?
In the past, Social Security theft used to require direct physical theft of some kind, like:
- Stealing your wallet or purse
- Stealing your mail, such as bank or credit card statements or new checks
- Digging through your trash to find official documents
The other common way was a phone scam, where they pretended to be someone official and called you to get the number. That evolved into email phishing scams, where a company sent you a request for your number and you provided it.
But in the days of big data breaches, there’s more risk than ever that your Social Security number can be compromised. Any company or government agency that has your Social Security number stored electronically can be hacked. So, there’s more risk than ever for this type of theft.
How do you stop Social Security identity theft?
There are some easy steps you can take to prevent physical theft, as well as theft by phone or email:
- Don’t take your Social Security card with you everywhere; ideally, you should store it in a safe or lock box at home.
- Have a locked mailbox and pick up your mail promptly, especially if you know you’re receiving something official.
- Shred all documents before you throw them away.
- Ask medical offices and other companies that have you fill out forms if your Social Security number is really required; if it’s not, leave it blank.
- Only give your number over the phone once you have verified the representative you’re talking to is legitimate.
- Never email your Social Security number, even if you know the receiver; the email can be intercepted.
- Only enter your Social Security number on secured websites that you trust.
Monitoring your Social Security number
Apart from protecting your Social Security number, there are two things you can do to monitor its use:
- Review your credit report regularly to see if someone is opening credit cards or loans in your name; this is often a sign that your Social Security number has been compromised.
- Go to the ssa.gov/myaccount to set up a My Social Security account. This will allow you to monitor and alert you if someone tries to order a replacement Social Security card or claim benefits using your number.
What to do if someone steals your Social Security number
Since most business is done electronically these days, it can be pretty much impossible to track down the thief that’s using your number. That’s especially true if it’s taken through a data breach or hack and sold on the dark web.
And once they have your number, the only recourse often to get a new one. Otherwise, the identity thieves will just keep using yours. It is possible to get a new number from the Social Security administration, but be aware that you’ll face some challenges moving forward.
- Since your credit report is tied to your Social Security number, you’ll have to start from scratch with credit.
- This can make it hard to get approved for loans and credit cards right after the theft happens; you must build your credit score back up.
- Your Social Security benefits are also tied to your number, so you’ll need to work with the Social Security Administration to see about transferring them to the new number.
In addition, be aware that proving your number has been stolen can be a challenge. The Social Security Administration doesn’t give out new numbers easily. You must demonstrably show that theft occurred. Identity theft is literally the only reason that they give out new numbers.
And, if you haven’t taken the preventative measures we recommend and someone open’s a My Social Security account in your name, you may have a very difficult time proving that you are the legitimate and rightful original holder of your number. So, make sure to take every step possible to protect your number, because this is the one type of identity theft that you most want to avoid.