Your Social Security number (SSN) plays a vital role in your financial future. It’s a piece of information critical for numerous transactions, including loan applications and opening bank accounts.
For this reason, ID thieves take the extra mile to steal people's SSNs and, by doing so, their identities. With the rising cases of identity theft, it’s essential to remain vigilant and proactive in protecting your personal information, especially your SSN.
ID theft can happen to anyone and in many forms. We want to protect our information too, so we combed through stories, articles, and other resources to ensure that we all have proper advice regarding keeping our SSNs secure.
Learn about our BEST tip for keeping your SSN secure. ID theft can have devastating impacts when SSNs fall into the wrong hands, so read on to learn with us.
8 Ways to Protect Your Social Security Number
According to an annual data breach report by Verizon, 60% to 80% of Social Security numbers were stolen by hackers. This is a terrifying statistic, but there are ways you can protect your SSN from thieves. Here are some of our recommendations:
1. Leave your Social Security card at home
As your Social Security number is vital, you should leave it at home to protect it. You can keep it tucked away in a vault or folder, kept with other documents, and safe from disappearing or theft.
It’s best not to make the mistake of carrying your Social Security in your wallet. When you lose that, you also lose your SSN, which can then lead to identity theft.
Leaving your SSN card at home decreases your chances of becoming a fraud victim.
You can also consider using alternative forms of ID instead. You should never freely give away your SSN.
You can offer your driver’s license number, passport, or utility bills if you can. You never know who has access to these files, and a Social Security card will be tempting to look at—and counterfeited.
2. Memorize your Social Security number
Knowing your Social Security number by heart reduces the need to carry your SSN card around. You also lessen your tendency to write it down on paper or on your phone, which you can lose quickly.
It may not seem like much, but memorizing your Social Security number means it’s always there when you need it. More importantly, it ensures you’re keeping your SSN somewhere identity thieves can never reach.
3. Never use your SSN as a password
Your SSN’s complexity is there for a reason—to provide you with a piece of identifying information, not to serve as a security measure.
For instance, using it as a password may seem like a good idea. However, since criminals can steal your SSN, thieves can compromise your financial accounts by hacking your passwords.
4. Be alert for phone and email scams
Identity thieves can get crafty to try and trick you into giving your SSN away. They use phishing methods through phone and email, posing as someone trustworthy to get you to provide details.
They may pose as a trusted business brand, government agency, or even employer requesting your SSN.
The best course of action is to verify the request. You must hold off sharing anything unless you know the request is valid. You can call the organization or business involved through a phone call.
For email requests, double-check the email address. Thieves use imitations of authentic emails, which can be confusing.
As you can see, the devil lies in the details. We need to be as vigilant as possible.
5. Consider using a VPN
Sharing your SSN through electronic devices can be risky, especially since our messages could get intercepted and cracked. This is especially true when you frequently use public WiFi, as hackers can lurk behind seemingly innocent networks.
If you can, invest in a virtual private network (VPN). This is an encrypted connection designed to help your data arrive safe and sound during transmission.
In other words, it prevents unauthorized access to your devices—even when using a public and unprotected WiFi network.
6. Monitor your financial accounts
If you’re wondering how you can check if someone is using your Social Security number, one way to do so is to check your credit report.
You may do so by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com or calling 1-877-322-8228. If something is off, someone may have compromised your SSN.
Crimes usually begin on small scales—missing an amount from your bank account or a small purchase using a credit card.
That said, it’s essential to review and monitor your financial accounts religiously. It’s also important to scrutinize your monthly credit card bills before paying, and consider setting up fraud alerts with your respective financial institutions.
These may not seem like much, but these steps can help you identify and flag unusual activities to act quickly and prevent more losses.
7. Destroy documents with personal information before throwing
Dumpster diving remains a popular activity, so people can easily steal your documents—even from a bin.
You’ll want to shred all documents containing your SSN and other personally identifiable information. It’s better to be safe than sorry because we’ll never know the lengths identity thieves are willing to go through.
Pro tip: Consider investing in an Identity Protection Service
If you wish to protect your Social Security number further, you can consider investing in an identity protection service. However, it’s always best to do in-depth research before diving into something. Your top considerations must include:
- SSN monitoring
- Credit monitoring
- Identity theft insurance
- Customer service
When should you provide your Social Security Number?
Although we’re all for protecting your SSN, it’s important to remember that you will need to use it eventually. You need it to file tax returns, apply for credit cards, or even claim state and federal benefits.
If an establishment asks you to provide your SSN, however, it’s still best to ask these questions:
- Why do you need my SSN?
- Where will you use my SSN?
- Can you accept other IDs?
- What happens if I refuse to provide my number?
You normally can’t change your SSN, so it’s vital to use it as infrequently as possible.
What can people do with your Social Security number, exactly? They can steal your identity to open accounts under your name, get your benefits, or even commit crimes.
What can you do when someone steals your Social Security number?
Sometimes, things just don’t go our way, no matter how careful we are. If you become a victim of identity fraud after losing your Social Security number, consider the following steps:
1. Report the incident to the proper authorities
If you suspect someone has stolen your SSN, report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) using IdentityTheft.gov.
Make sure to specify what has happened, and in this case, SSN fraud. You can also file a police report, as all these documents can strengthen your case, especially as you build a recovery plan.
You may also request to block electronic access for your SSN by calling the SSA at 1-800-772-1213. This way, no one can view or alter your personal information online. If you change your mind, you can call the SSA and request for the block’s removal.
2. Contact all companies potentially involved
Since the identity thief has access to your SSN, they’ll likely use it to create fraudulent accounts, apply for loans, and even get a new credit card.
You’ll need to contact all the companies involved, mainly if you can track where they created credit lines under your name.
You must explain the case carefully, identifying yourself as an identity theft victim. You can also support your claim by providing the necessary documents you provided earlier.
More importantly, ask them to take down all the accounts to prevent the thief from further compromising your finances.
3. Request a credit freeze or fraud alert
A credit freeze prevents fraudsters from opening new accounts, renting apartments, or applying for loans in your name, as it restricts access to your credit report.
Thankfully, your credit score will not be affected by the freezing, and you can unfreeze and refreeze your credit report anytime.
A credit freeze must be done with each of the three credit bureaus separately, namely:
If you suspect your SSN has been stolen but have no evidence, you can opt to request a fraud alert rather than a credit freeze.
A fraud alert requests businesses verify your identity before allowing someone to open credit in your name. In doing so, you add an extra layer of security.
Your Social Security number is incredibly important, especially as you build your financial future. So many essential things require an SSN—applying for a mortgage, landing jobs, and even opening a bank account. It only follows to protect it at all costs, so keep these eight tips in mind!