Your Social Security Number is a highly valuable piece of information. For thieves, this can unlock so many other details of your identity and allow them to ruin your credit. That’s why it’s so important to understand how it can be taken and what you can do to protect it.
“Of any piece of personal information, the Social Security Number is the most critical to safeguard,” Lisa Schifferle, an attorney in the Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection told Bankrate. “It’s the golden ticket to identity theft.”
How can thieves get their hands on your Social Security Number?
There are several ways through which your identity can be stolen. Some of these are more physical, like if someone takes your wallet or mail or rummages through your trash, but with the Internet, these opportunities change. Thieves can access your information through unsecured websites, phishing scams and computer viruses. To obtain your Social Security Number, some fraudsters use the phone to pose as a trusted person who could legitimately need that information, like an employer or landlord.
How can you protect yourself?
Luckily, just as there are many ways a thief could steal your Social Security Number, there are many ways you can protect it.
- Know who needs it: It’s always advised that you be selective with whom you give this number to, but there are cases where you’ll need to give it out. The people or agencies most likely to ask for it are employers, the Internal Revenue Service, banks, the U.S. Treasury or other government agencies.
- Ask questions: If you’re not sure why your Social Security Number is required, you can always always ask questions about why it’s needed, how it will be used and stored and what the consequences are if you refuse. You can say no to giving out your Social Security Number to anyone, just know that the organization can refuse you service if you do. So instead of withholding that information from everyone, know who doesn’t need it. Schools, landlords, hospitals, utilities companies and insurers might ask for your Social Security Number as a way to uniquely identify you or run a credit check, but it’s not necessary.
- Keep it in a safe place: You should never regularly carry your Social Security card around. This only makes it more likely to be stolen from you. Instead, keep it somewhere secure, like a safety deposit box.
- Take action: If you think someone might be fraudulently using your number, you should report it immediately. You can contact the Social Security Administration if you are concerned, and it can review your earnings with you to make sure the information is correct. You’re also able to view your record yourself through your Social Security Statement, which is available online to workers age 18 and over. If you find out someone has been misusing your information, you should report it to the Federal Trade Commission and possibly the Internal Revenue Service, if you’re worried the thief may have filed a false tax return with it.
If you’re worried about the safety of your Social Security Number, you can invest in an identity theft protection service that can alert you to certain activity that may indicate fraud. With all of the data breaches that have exposed thousands of records in the past two years, the ability to know whether your SSN is being shared is invaluable.