Safeguarding Your Social Security Number
Help prevent identity theft by keeping your Social Security number out of the hands of fraudsters.
Never underestimate the importance of keeping your Social Security number safe. The Social Security Administration considers the nine-digit number to be citizens' "first and continuous link" with Social Security, since it helps the government accurately record wages and earnings and uses it to monitor your record when you start getting benefits.1
If the number falls into the wrong hands, your identity can be stolen. A criminal can use it to obtain additional personal information about you, apply for credit in your name, charge medical bills to your insurance, damage your credit, etc. It's strongly advised that you take precautions to help keep that from happening.
Luckily, the Social Security Administration has a website where you can register, and doing so is a good place to start. If you haven't already set up a login at ssa.gov, you should do so as soon as possible to make sure a criminal doesn't beat you to it, which can create big problems. Don't wait to register, even if it will be many years before you plan to collect benefits.
Set security code
While you're on that site, set up a security code. It's an optional feature that gives you an extra layer of protection, so criminals will have a harder time posing as you in the future.
Freeze electronic access
You can also use the site to freeze electronic access to your account, which provides yet another layer of security. As SSA.gov explains: "If you know your Social Security information has been compromised, and if you don’t want to do business with Social Security online, you can use our Block Electronic Access. You can block any automated telephone and electronic access to your Social Security record. No one, including you, will be able to see or change your personal information on the internet or through our automated telephone service. If you block access to your record and then change your mind in the future, you can contact Social Security and ask us to unblock it after you prove your identity. This resource is available to certain victims of identity theft and those who need extra security."2
Never carry your Social Security card
Keep your Social Security card in a safe place, like a safe deposit box. Never carry it around with you in your wallet or purse. Believe it or not, one of the most common ways that Social Security numbers are stolen is from a stolen wallet or purse.
Shred your documents
Your Social Security number can also be obtained from stolen mail, so try not to leave mail in your mailbox for too long. In fact, shred any sensitive mail and other documents (for example, medical bills) to help prevent people from obtaining your Social Security number from your garbage, which is another common way thieves steal this information.
Avoid providing your number via email or phone
There are plenty of examples of scam emails - think phishing - and phone calls in which criminals try to obtain your personal information. Never respond to an email or phone call with your Social Security number. If you are going to give the number out over email or phone, make sure you're the originator of the communication so that you can be sure you're communicating with the actual organization and not someone posing as them.
Be careful about providing your Social Security number to businesses
Better yet, try not to give the number out to any business unless it's absolutely necessary. A lot of businesses will ask for your Social Security number as a matter of routine, even when it’s not really necessary. Before you give it up, ask them if they really need it and why. Businesses get hacked every day, so the fewer places that have your number, the better.
What happens if it's too late?
If someone has already obtained your number and is using it, you can inform the government.
SSA.gov says, "If you suspect someone’s using your Social Security number for work purposes, report the problem to us immediately by contacting the Federal Trade Commission. We will review your earnings with you to ensure our records are accurate. You may also verify your earnings on your Social Security Statement. You can get your Statement online by opening a personal my Social Security account."3
If someone has used your number to obtain credit, go to IdentityTheft.gov to file a report and set up a plan to help you recover your credit identity.
The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice. Any views expressed in this article may not necessarily be those of Nevada State Bank, a division of ZB, N.A.