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We use our Social Security number (SSN) frequently to verify our identity when starting a new job, opening accounts, visiting doctors’ offices, filing tax returns, receiving government benefits and services, and more. What if the unthinkable happens and your SSN is stolen? Would you know what to do?
Having your SSN stolen is something you never want to experience, but unfortunately, it does happen, and it’s happening more frequently because of the digital world we live in. If your SSN is stolen, you are at risk of becoming a victim of identity theft and fraud, which can cause major damage to your credit and even your finances. Below is some helpful information should your SSN be stolen and how to minimize the risk of this happening to you.
How can your Social Security number be stolen?
Identity thieves can get access to your SSN multiple ways. For example:
Stealing wallets, purses, and your mail
Stealing personal information entered on unsecured websites
Searching through your trash for personal data
Exploiting data breaches
Posing as someone who legitimately needs information about you such as employers, landlords, or government agencies
Once identity thieves get a hold of your SSN, they can do a number of things with it like using it to open new financial accounts in your name, purchase property, or place your SSN on the dark web and sell it to other identity thieves.
What should you do if your Social Security number or card is stolen or lost?
If you discover that your SSN or card is stolen or lost, you should follow these steps:
1. Place a fraud alert on your credit file.
One of the first steps you should take if your SSN or card is stolen or lost is to place an initial fraud alert on your credit file. Placing a fraud alert provides you extra protection as a notice is placed on your credit file with the three major credit bureaus, alerting potential creditors to contact you before a new account is opened in your name.
You will need to contact one of the three major credit bureaus – Experian (call 1-888-397-3742 or go online), TransUnion (call 1-800-680-7289 or go online), or Equifax (call 1-888-766-0008) – to place a fraud alert and to inform them of what happened to your SSN or card. Whichever bureau you contact to place a fraud alert, they will place the fraud alert with the other two bureaus as well.
2. Get a new Social Security card.
Immediately contact the Social Security Administration (call 1-800-772-1213) to inform them of the incident and to request a replacement Social Security card. You can also request a replacement card online by logging into or creating your personal My Social Security account at www.ssa.gov.
3. File a report with the applicable authorities.
You should report the potential identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at http://www.idtheft.gov/ or by calling 1-877-IDTHEFT.
If you believe your Social Security card is stolen or lost, you should contact the police and file a police report. By filing an identity theft report with the police, you will help protect yourself if an identity thief uses your SSN to commit a crime. Also, a police report is required if you determine you need to get a new SSN.
4. Contact the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
If you suspect an identity thief is using your SSN for work purposes or has filed a tax return in your name to receive a refund, you should contact the IRS. You can go to the IRS Identity Theft Central website or call 1-800-908-4490 to make them aware.
5. Carefully review your credit reports and accounts.
If you notice any unusual or suspicious activity on your credit card statements, bank accounts, or credit reports that you didn’t authorize, you should immediately report any fraudulent activity to your creditors and to one of the three major credit bureaus.
You can receive a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three major credit bureaus. Just go online to www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228.
6. Get identity theft protection.
Having identity theft protection will ensure that your personal information – including your SSN – and credit are monitored 24/7 and you will have a team of specialists available to help restore your identity if you become a victim of identity theft or fraud.
When would you need a new Social Security number?
While this is uncommon, you can get a new SSN if you have determined that your credit is at serious risk. The Social Security Administration may assign a new SSN to you if you can prove that someone has stolen your number and is using it. You must provide evidence that the number is being misused and causing you significant, continuous harm.
You can receive information on how to get a new SSN by visiting the Social Security Administration website.
How to keep your Social Security number safe.
Here are some tips to help protect your SSN or card from being stolen:
If you are asked to share your SSN, offer another form of identification like your driver’s license, passport, or proof of current address.
Before sharing your SSN with any organization, always ask why they need your SSN and how will it be used. Oftentimes, it’s not even necessary.
Keep your Social Security card in a safe place, and never carry your card in your wallet or purse.
Shred mail and documents that have your SSN on them and are no longer needed.
Never share your SSN through an electronic device (i.e., email) or leave it on a voicemail.
Never use your SSN as a password.
Set up account alerts with your bank and credit card accounts to get notified if someone tries to use your SSN to access your account.
We hope you’ll never be in a situation with a compromised SSN, but if you do, hopefully you’ll feel a little more prepared and know what next steps to take.