Your Social Security number (SSN) is one of the most important pieces of personal information you have. Not only does your unique nine-digit number enable you to receive benefits from the Social Security Agency (SSA), but it’s also required when applying for jobs or signing up for programs run by the federal government.
Unfortunately, Social Security numbers are also the key to identity theft — and there are all sorts of ways for a thief to use your SSN for criminal purposes. Besides trying to defraud the SSA itself, an identity thief can apply for a job posing as you, potentially drain your bank accounts or open an account in your name, sign up for fraudulent credit cards, make purchases, commit tax fraud and more.
Due to its importance, protecting your Social Security number is essential. Here are some ways you can protect yourself from SSN fraud or identity theft.
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.
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.
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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 licence) — 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?”
Check your accounts and credit
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 any paperwork that has your SSN attached to 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 then destroy. If you must keep physical copies (i.e.: tax returns), make sure you store them in a safe or safe place.
Don’t use your SSN as a password
It is common sense: Don’t use your SSN as a password. Don’t use any important number or identifier for a password.
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.
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