Can Your Social Security Number Be Changed if You’re a Victim of Identity Theft?

Legal gavel on a laptop  with Identity Theft Social Security card.
zimmytws / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Your Social Security card is one of the most important pieces of ID you have. A lost or stolen Social Security number (SSN) can lead to severe financial and personal consequences that are more difficult to reverse than, say, those of losing a credit card.

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Canceling debit, credit and other identification cards is a relatively simple process if you have proper corroborating ID. However, because of its importance, the Social Security Administration (SSA) won’t give you a new Social Security number unless there is substantial proof that it is being used by someone else. The process takes a long time, requires a lot of paperwork, and gives a criminal plenty of time to cause damage to your identity and finances.

If you’ve lost your Social Security card or someone has stolen your Social Security number, you’re at great risk for identity theft. There are several ways a thief can cause damage if they have your SSN, especially if they also have access to other identifying information such as your address, personal information and credit card number. These include:

  • Financial fraud: applying for loans and credit cards in your name, ruining your credit score
  • Medical fraud: receiving medical care, affecting your health insurance and medical history
  • Tax fraud: getting an unlawful tax refund
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A Social Security card is a crucial piece of identification but, unlike a credit card, it isn’t used very often. It might take a long time until you realize your number has been compromised and by the time you do, a thief might have already inflicted irreversible damage to your identity, reputation and financial life.

Aside from providing information on how to keep your card and number safe and how to monitor your SSN through its online statement portal, the Social Security Administration provides information on steps to take if you think an identity thief is misusing your Social Security number.  

A Social Security account should be created or consulted at the first sign of an SSN loss or theft. Sometimes your number has simply been used in error by another person or agency. Checking your statement online will confirm if your fear stems from a simple mistake or a serious crime.

The SSA’s Identity Theft and Your Social Security Number publication makes it clear that it cannot help you resolve the problems an identity theft has caused to your credit or damage to your online presence. Also, a card or number will not be replaced if:

  • If there is no evidence of someone using your number, even if your card or number is lost or stolen.
  • To avoid the consequences of filing for bankruptcy.
  • If your intent is to avoid the law or legal responsibility in any way.
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However, if you must get a replacement number due to persistent identity attacks, you should notify several authorities immediately. First, report the issue to IdentityTheft.gov. This Federal Trade Commission-managed site has all the resources you need for the recovery process. Second, it is a good idea to contact the IRS in case a thief tries to file a tax return and jeopardize your future filings. Third, report a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center to ensure that various law authorities are aware of suspected criminal behavior with respect to your SSN and identity. Lastly, keep on monitoring your credit reports for activity.

When it comes to getting a new SSN, you will need proof of your identity, age and U.S. citizenship or immigration status. You will also need to provide concrete evidence that your card/number has been lost or stolen and you’re having ongoing problems because of misuse by another entity.

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After you receive a replacement Social Security card, you may still need to do some identity and financial maintenance. A lot of information is tied to your old SSN and none to your new one, so don’t be surprised if you must contact a great number of agencies and businesses and if your identity rebuild takes longer than you think.

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About the Author

David Nadelle is a freelance editor and writer based in Ottawa, Canada. After working in the energy industry for 18 years, he decided to change careers in 2016 and concentrate full-time on all aspects of writing. He recently completed a technical communication diploma and holds previous university degrees in journalism, sociology and criminology. David has covered a wide variety of financial and lifestyle topics for numerous publications and has experience copywriting for the retail industry.

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