It takes seconds for your life to be destroyed by identity theft. When one dishonest person finds your lost wallet, or steals a few pieces of trash from your curb, they can cause a ripple effect of financial, legal and emotional problems that follow you for years.
Identity theft is becoming more and more common. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that about three percent of U.S. households experienced identity theft in 2004. That number more than doubled in one decade: in 2014, an estimated seven percent of households were victims of identity theft. Protect yourself and your future by safeguarding your Social Security number from thieves.
How Identity Theft Theft Happens
Often, identity theft starts with someone getting hold of your Social Security number. That can happen in many ways. A thief can get your information by:
- Stealing your purse or wallet and finding your Social Security card, or a copy of it, inside.
- Intercepting your incoming mail or outgoing garbage and finding documents that include your SSN or account numbers.
- Baiting you into revealing your SSN by posing as a representative of the government, a bank or other business.
- Taking it from employment records that aren’t properly protected.
- Using online hacking schemes to do things like record your keystrokes or intercept communication between you and your bank.
But these are just a few of the ways identity theft can start. And identity thieves come up with new scams all the time, so it’s important to be vigilant.
Protecting Your Social Security Number
It’s helpful to think of your Social Security card and number like you would think of anything highly valuable.
- Store your card at home, in a secure place like a safe or hidden file.
- When a company you’re doing business with requests your SSN as a way to verify your identity, ask if there is any alternate way they can verify it without this number.
- If you’re asked to provide your SSN online, like in a credit card application, check that the institution is using secure encryption.
- When applying for a job, ask the employer how they protect employment files before providing your SSN. A trustworthy employer should have a system for keeping this information confidential.
Even when you’re vigilant, a clever thief might find a way to access your SSN and other information. That’s why using an identity protection service is a smart choice for anyone concerned about identity theft.
An identity protection service works by monitoring your credit report and contacting you when any significant activity occurs, like when a new credit card is opened in your name. This kind of service will also monitor other kinds of reports, like loan application services and the National Change of Address database, and alert you whenever your information is being used.
If Your SSN Is Stolen
Taking steps to protect your SSN and identity can save you tremendous difficulty down the line. But if your SSN is comprised, take immediate action.
- Visit the Federal Trade Commission’s IdentityTheft.gov to report the theft and create an action plan.
- File a police report with your local police.
- Contact one of the national credit reporting companies to create a fraud alert, which makes it difficult for a thief to open any new accounts with your information.
- Report the fraud to the IRS, your banking and financial institutions and any companies where the thief has opened accounts using your information.
- Replace a stolen or lost Social Security card. Contact the Social Security Administration to request a Social Security card replacement. It may require you to visit a local SSA office, or use a third party Social Security Card Replacement Assistant
There’s a lot to do. When you use an identity protection service, you’ll find out about theft right away so you can minimize the damage and get back to your life.
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