According to the U.S. Department of Justice, an estimated 7 percent of all U.S. residents age 16 or older, were victims of one or more incidents of identity theft in 2014.
Dealing with the loss of a stolen social security number can create a huge impact if not taken care of quickly. Identity thieves can use your identity to open credit card accounts, file fraudulent tax returns and even take over your identity.
Below is the best way to guard your social security number (SSN) and what to do if yours is ever stolen.
NEVER EVER, carry your Social Security Card
This may seem like common sense, but at times, we put our social security in our wallet for a particular reason and forget to remove it. Many people aren’t aware that when they start to receive Medicare benefits that their SSN is used to identify them as well.
When you go to a new health care provider, ask if they really need to see it. For individuals on Medicare, you can make a photocopy of your card and either removes your SSN with white out or by cutting the number off the copy. Most of us know our SSN and possibly our spouses’ as well; by removing your SSN can help stop identity theft in its tracks.
When working with a new employer, you’ll have to show proof of your identity and your SSN card is one of the easiest to bring into your new job. Just be mindful that you bring it on one day only, and remove it from your wallet once your identity has been verified.
Another thing to ask your employer or health care provider is how they protect your social security number. Do they have a system in place for shredding or disposal of sensitive documents? How is your personal information protected? If they can’t answer your question, then they can wait to have your SSN.
My SSN has been stolen, what do I do?
The very first thing you should do is place a fraud alert on your credit report. You can do that by calling any of the three credit bureaus. (You only need to contact one; they must tell the other two companies!) The Federal Trade Commission has some great information on how to place an initial fraud alert, and if your identity has been stolen you can extend it out to seven years.
During this time, you can also get a free credit report (in addition to your yearly credit report).
If you really want to put your credit on lockdown, you can also place a credit freeze for individuals under the age of 65; there is a nominal fee of $5 to $10 for each bureau to put on this request.
According to Social Security Administration (SSA), you may also want to contact the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to prevent someone from using your identity to file a tax return in your name.
Can I get a new SSN?
According to the SSA you can, but the better question is, should you? You’ll have to prove to the SSA that your SSN has been used, and that you have ongoing problems of misuse. They do warn that getting a new SSN probably won’t solve all of your problems. They also make it clear that you’ll have no credit history at all, which could make it harder for you to apply for credit. Losing your SSN can be a pain, but the implications of not taking care of it as soon as possible can be even worse. Having an identity theft issue can eat up your time, resources and create stress for you and your loved ones. If you do happen to lose your SSN card, make sure to place a fraud alert on your credit with the three bureaus. Ask questions, be informed and keep that SSN card safe
Sasha Grabenstetter is the University of Illinois Extension Family and Consumer Economics Educator for Grundy, Kankakee and Will counties.
— Financial educator on protecting your social security number —