Identity Theft: How To Keep Your Social Security Number Safe From Fraud

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As the House Jan. 6 committee finished its work over the past few weeks, it posted hundreds of records online, inadvertently including a spreadsheet with nearly 2,000 Social Security numbers belonging to visitors to the White House in December 2020. The spreadsheet with the numbers was taken offline Wednesday, Jan. 4. 

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Though the information was removed, those Social Security numbers could have already been captured by fraudsters with bad intent. It happens on a smaller scale all the time.  

Here are ways to keep Your Social Security number safe:

Limit the Use of Your Social Security Number

The need for protecting your SSN is crucial because it is used for a lot of benefits and programs. However, some programs and institutions are phasing out its use during registration. Many assistance programs are increasingly using personally created accounts to access their benefits — and some schools, who used to match a student ID with their Social Security number, no longer do so. If you can, use your SSN for tax filings only.

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Don’t Carry Your Social Security Card With You

Although your SSN is used for a wide range of programs and benefits, you shouldn’t need to carry the actual card with you (or use it on a day-to-day basis). A thief in possession of your Social Security card is as dangerous as a criminal committing SSN fraud online, if not more so. Memorizing your number is the best way to keep track of it, but if you can’t remember your number, stash it in a safe spot on your heavily secured smartphone.

Avoid Giving Your Whole SSN on the Phone or Online

Most trustworthy companies will be able to establish your identity without your full SSN, so offer part of it — or other supporting identification (i.e.: driver’s license) — for verification purposes. If you are still nervous about divulging your SSN on the phone or online, simply contact the agency yourself to resolve the matter in question. If someone asks for your Social Security number, always ask questions like “How will it be used?” and “What if I refuse to share it?”

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Check Your Accounts and Credit Score

Actively monitor your accounts and credit statements for any unexplained transactions and report them immediately. Banks and financial institutions often notify you of suspicious account activity when they see it, as well.

Get Rid of Paperwork That Has Your SSN On It

If you can’t fully commit to going 100% paperless, it might be a good idea to shred any seemingly innocent financial papers that contain your Social Security number. With so much personal financial info available securely to individuals online, there should be a lot of documents you can digitize and then destroy. If you must keep physical copies (i.e.: tax returns), make sure you store them in a safe or safe place.

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Don’t Use Your SSN as a Password

It should be common sense: Don’t use your SSN as a password. Don’t use any important number or identifier for a password.

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Register With a Professional ID Protection Service

Identity theft protection services or ID protection providers can prevent your online bank account details from being stolen, keep your credit score from being manipulated, boost your online reputation and stop online thieves from accessing any sensitive financial or personal information.

Nicole Spector contributed to the reporting on this article.

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