Your Social Security number (SSN) is vital to your financial health. It’s important for opening bank accounts, applying for loans, and getting credit cards.
Because of the sheer importance of our SSNs, ID thieves take the extra mile to steal people's Social Security cards and other documents that contain those crucial numbers. In doing so, they can commit fraud and cause irreparable damage to the victim's finances.
What do you do when you lose your SSN? We've looked into official Social Security sources and other authority sites. From there, we’ve gathered the best steps to take on what to do if you lose your SS card.
More importantly, we discovered the BEST possible tip to help you remain safe from ID theft. Don’t miss out on crucial security measures!
In this article
What do you do when your SSN is lost or stolen?
Your Social Security card is one of the most important documents you own because it contains your SSN. If your Social Security number is compromised, you’re in big trouble.
Identity thieves use your SSN to apply for the things you use it for—credit cards, loans, and bank accounts. In worst cases, however, they use it to steal your identity to commit fraud.
Losing your SSN means you’re at risk of losing the financial wealth you’ve built and having depleted government benefits, debt accumulation, and even crime, all under your name.
That said, it’s essential to know what to do when you lose your SSN or find that someone stole it:
1. Reach out to the authorities
How do you report a stolen Social Security card? The first thing you need to do is to file a police report, which will contain what has happened to your SSN card and other stolen items. You can also file an Identity Theft Report from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
The police and identity theft report can serve as a legal record of the incident. This can help you explain your case better to financial institutions, especially if you need to deal with accumulated debt.
But if you think someone has already used your identity, contact the Social Security Fraud Hotline at 800-269-0271 immediately.
For good measure, contact the Internal Revenue Service at 800-908-4490 to prevent the thief from submitting a tax return in your name.
2. Check your credit reports regularly
You may have already reached out to the authorities, but remember that your information is already out there. It’s important to remain proactive, and you can do this by monitoring your credit reports.
Doing so helps you keep track of sudden unauthorized accounts under your name, helping you take the necessary steps, like reporting them to the respective lenders and creditors.
You can request your credit reports annually from the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion) through www.annualcreditreport.com.
3. Consider requesting a fraud alert or a credit freeze
A fraud alert or credit freeze could be your best option if you need quick solutions. Here’s how they differ:
Here, potential lenders and creditors will know when to take additional steps to verify your identity. They can contact you by phone or email to ensure that you’re indeed trying to open a new credit line.
This request can last for a year and is free of charge. If you need to request one, simply contact one of the major credit bureaus, and they’ll contact the other two for you.
A credit freeze will prevent access to your credit reports. This effectively stops thieves from opening new credit accounts, but this also means limited access for you.
Since it’s federally regulated, you need to request a temporary lift or removal before you can apply for new credit. Thankfully, a credit freeze is free—but you need to contact each credit bureau to enjoy its benefits.
4. Request a replacement card from the SSA
If you lose your SSN card, remember that the Social Security Administration offers free card replacements but with a limit.
You can only ask for three placements per year or 10 throughout a lifetime. Thankfully, the limit only exists for people who lost their cards—changes of names are exempted.
What do you need to get a replacement Social Security card?
To request a replacement, you can create a my Social Security account and prove the following criteria:
- You’re a citizen of the United States of America
- You’re over the age of 18
- You have a U.S. mailing address
- You’re not requesting name or other detail changes on your card
- You have a valid driver’s license or state identification card
It’s vital to note that you won’t be able to create a my Social Security account online if you have an ongoing fraud alert or credit freeze.
Can you replace your Social Security card on the same day? Unfortunately, no. The process takes around 10–14 business days.
You can’t track your Social Security card in the mail, but you may check your application by calling the SSA at 1-800-772-1213 or visiting your local SS office.
How can thieves benefit from your Social Security number?
Unfortunately, there are many ways. Identity thieves get craftier by the day. Apart from opening new credit line accounts, here are some things they can do with a stolen SS card:
They can steal your benefits
If you have state or federal benefits such as Medicaid, SNAP, or EBT, identity thieves can access them because they’re tied to your SSN.
They can also target unemployment benefits. They simply have to file in your name to obtain what’s rightfully yours.
They can access medical care
Apart from stealing your benefits, they can also use your SSN to get medical care at clinics and hospitals. Unfortunately, tracking these can be difficult, and many people don’t realize it until it’s too late.
Although difficult to track, remember that your medical care costs always appear on your credit reports. Once you see unfamiliar medical collection notices, it’s a sure sign someone’s using your SSN for medical care.
Can you change your Social Security number?
The Social Security Administration only allows people to change their SSN under specific conditions highlighted on the agency’s FAQ page. Simply losing your SS card doesn’t entitle you to a replacement number.
You can only change your Social Security number if:
- You’re a victim of identity theft, and your original number continues to disrupt your life
- Your existing SSN can leave you vulnerable to harm (i.e., cases of abuse, harassment, or life endangerment)
- The system has assigned the same number to a different person
- Sequential numbers within your family cause significant confusion
- You have a cultural or religious objection against specific digits in your existing SSN
The SSA is highly strict when it comes to changing your Social Security number, and you’ll need to give sufficient documentation to request a change.
If you’re changing your SSN due to ID theft, you must prove that someone is using your SSN for fraudulent transactions.
You also must prove it’s causing significant disadvantages (e.g., loan denials and lowered credit ratings) and that you’ve tried all possible means to mitigate the issue.
You may only apply for a new number in person at a local Social Security office. You also need to provide proof of your identity, citizenship or immigration status, and age.
You can check the complete list of acceptable documents on the SSA website.
You must note that the SSA and other agencies will still have your original records even if you change your SSN. Also, getting a replacement SSN can complicate some processes, such as getting government financial assistance or a passport.
Pro tip: A less drastic method of protecting yourself against employee-related ID theft is placing a Social Security lock. Doing so can prevent fraudsters from using your SSN to get jobs under your name.
Ways to protect your Social Security card and number
If you want to avoid losing your SS card, here are some tips you may try:
Keep the card somewhere safe and inaccessible to others
It’s always best to store your Social Security card (and anything that contains your SSN) in a secure location. You may place the card and other important documents in a safe or lockbox in your home.
Don’t carry your Social Security card with you
One common mistake people make is carrying their SS cards in their purses or wallets. While having it may be convenient, thieves and pickpockets may take it away from you. This will leave you vulnerable to identity theft and many other SSN-related problems.
It’s best to memorize your SSN instead of carrying your card when you go out. Your card and other documents containing your number should remain locked at home so that no one can steal them easily.
You’re working hard to attain an excellent financial future, but identity thieves continue to lurk and attempt to steal it away from you. Simply stealing your Social Security number can leave you vulnerable to financial ruin and identity fraud.
Thankfully, there are ways to remain proactive and ensure that your SSN and other personal information stay secure. By following the methods and tips listed above, you can keep those identity thieves away.