Protecting Your Social Security Number

This one number makes all the difference to identity thieves… your social security number. When you apply for a job, the application asks for your social security number. When you apply for a bank account, they want your social security number. When you file a tax return, apply for a loan, get medical treatment, apply for government benefits, you are asked for your social security number.

Someone illegally using your social security number and other information about you not only assumes your identity, but they can sell and resell your information as well. To add to this risk, as consumers, we are gradually becoming mentally resistant to attacks on our identity. We don’t always do the work that is necessary to protect ourselves and we assume there is safety online where there often isn’t sufficient oversight, if any.

The big question is, what can you do about it? How can you tell if someone is using your social security number and identity? It can often seem like by the time you figure it out it’s too late.

For consumers who do nothing, “too late” is an accurate assessment. In 2017, one company alone had a data breach that included the social security numbers of 143 million people. Anyone who isn’t monitoring their data for suspicious activity is increasing their risk of identity theft.

The fact is, your social security number is not a secret anymore.

Social security numbers were created for the single purpose of tracking worker contributions to a national retirement fund. It was never intended to be an identity number. Over time, however, retailers and banks offered easier access to credit with a quick ID check on your name and social security number. Until something else replaces social security numbers as the primary controlling factor of your identity, there are a few simple things you can do to protect yourself.

Automated social security number monitoring

Catching ID theft early is your best first line of defense. The simplest way to do this is to sign-up for an automated social security number monitoring service. With credit monitoring and address change monitoring, you’ll be alerted by email if your social security number is used to open credit.

Avoid disclosing more than necessary

There are several organizations that require your social security number, such as employers, the IRS, and financial institutions. But there are many organizations that often ask for your social security number even though they don’t really need it to enroll you in their services. Whenever possible, avoid providing your social security number unless it is absolutely required.

Protect your card

Do not carry your social security card with you. A state-issued ID, which has your picture embedded in it and other security features, will be sufficient for day-to-day identification. There’s no need to risk a lost or stolen card when it isn’t needed for daily use.

Implement identity-protecting best practices

When disposing of documents that contain your social security number, shred them using a good quality crosscut shredding machine. Remember to go paperless when it comes to bank and credit cards statements. And once a document has been scanned and safely saved to your computer, shred the paper rather than filing it or placing it in a stack of papers.

Your social security number is a major key to your credit health, but it isn’t protected by individuals and organizations as well as it should be. Now that you recognize its importance and the weight of the risk it represents take the steps discussed to protect and monitor your social security number, so it is treated as a valuable identity asset.

© 2018 IdentityIQ, LLC

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