When it comes to protecting your identity, making sure your social security number stays confidential is a top priority. However, that task is made more difficult with every piece of mail or document you receive that lists your SSN. If one of these were to be misplaced, stolen from your home or taken from your garbage, your risk of identity theft could skyrocket. Now, a new bill has been proposed that could help limit the number of sensitive documents that are produced in the first place, making it easier for consumers across the country to keep their personal information secure.
The bill, known as the Social Security Must Avert Identity Loss (MAIL Act), would stipulate that the Social Security Administration stop including a person’s SSN on mailings where it is deemed unnecessary. This could have a massive effect on the proliferation of social security numbers across the country, as the agency sent as many as 233 million documents through the mail last year that contained full SSNs, according to one of the bill’s sponsors, Congressmen Sam Johnson (R-TX), reported FedSmith.
These mailings are spread across at least 579 distinct types of documents, Johnson explained. By limiting this figure to those where a SSN is truly essential, the bill could help consumers keep better track of where and how their number is stored. With fewer sensitive documents to keep track of and shred, consumers would better be able to control their vulnerabilities.
The bill also takes aim at another source of identity theft, which puts consumers at risk before they ever receive their documents: erroneous mailings. According to Johnson, as many as 51 percent of the mailing addresses the Social Security Administration have on file are inaccurate. As a result, documents could be delivered directly to someone’s doorstep containing another person’s name, address and social security number, a few essential pieces for committing ID theft .
“Despite telling Americans countless times about the need to protect their Social Security Numbers, Social Security fails to take its own advice,” said Johnson, who sponsored the bill alongside Congressman Jim Renacci (R-OH), according to FedSmith.
“The SSA makes too many Americans vulnerable to identity loss by mailing documents that include a Social Security Number when it’s just not necessary,” Johnson continued. “Americans rightly expect that Social Security isn’t putting their identities at risk when a letter is lost or stolen. Our bill is a commonsense solution to a problem that simply shouldn’t exist.”
Protecting your identity
Even if this bill were to pass, there are countless other ways an ID thief could use your mail to collect your personal information. Luckily, there are several simple steps you can take to make your mail more secure.
- Keep your address up to date: After a move, notify the post office of your address change as soon as possible. They can help make sure your mail comes to your new residence and doesn’t land in anyone’s hands but your own.
- Pick up your mail quickly: To minimize the chances someone could steal a piece of mail out of your mailbox, do your best to pick up your mail as promptly as possible after it is dropped off.
- Request a hold when you’re away: If you won’t be home to pick up your mail, call the post office and request a hold. They can hang on to shipments and mail until you’re back in town, limiting the chance your mail could sit vulnerable for an extended period of time.
If you believe you have become a victim of mail theft, watch your credit report and bank statement closely for signs of identity theft. For added protection, consider signing up for a credit monitoring service. It can keep an eye on different data points and alert you to certain activity that may indicate fraud.