A Social Security Number (SSN) is one of the most important forms of identification a person can have in the United States. It’s used for collecting social security benefits, filing taxes, accessing government services, identity verification, issuing credit, and more.
Unfortunately, Social Security fraud is on the rise. In 2020, reports of government benefits fraud (which includes Social Security fraud) increased by 2,920% and became the number one type of identity theft reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).¹
If your SSN is stolen, it can be used by fraudsters to:
- Open bank accounts and apply for credit cards in your name
- File tax returns in your name to receive your tax refund
- Impersonate you and receive government benefits such as unemployment
- File medical insurance claims in your name
- Commit crimes under your SSN which will go on your criminal record
Becoming a victim of social security theft can have a significant impact on your finances, your credit score, and even your criminal record. Fortunately, there are practical steps you can take to help protect your SSN from thieves.
1. Limit How and When You Share Your Social Security Number
There are specific circumstances — such as filing your taxes — where it’s necessary to use your SSN when filling out forms. However, you may find yourself in situations where you’re asked to share your SSN even though it’s not necessary.
- Identity Verification – When a business or organization requests your Social Security card to verify your identity, ask if you can provide alternative forms of identification such as a passport, driver’s license, or proof of residence.
- Job Application – Some employers may ask you to provide your SSN on a job application, but most won’t actually need it until you are hired and need to fill out tax forms. If an employer requests your SSN before you are officially hired, ask why they need it.
2. Strengthen Your Security Practices
- Leave Your Card at Home – Keep your Social Security card at home, locked in a secure location. Never carry it around outside your home with your wallet or purse (which can be lost or stolen).
- Practice Vigilance – If you do need to take your Social Security card outside your home — such as when filling out paperwork for a new job — keep it stashed securely and make sure you know where it is at all times. If a Human Resources employee takes your card, be sure to get it back from them.
- Provide Your SSN In Person – Never recite your SSN aloud in public or leave it on a voicemail. Providing your SSN in person, via your Social Security card or by writing it on official paperwork, is the safest course of action for preventing Social Security theft.
- Increase Digital Security – Be very careful about sharing your SSN electronically. Don’t use your SSN as a password or part of a password, and never send your SSN via email, SMS, or direct message. Once you press the “send” button, you will not be able to control how private those messages are kept.
- Shred Sensitive Documents – In addition to digital security, make sure your paper files are also secure. Rather than recycling or tossing them in the trash, it’s important to shred any mail, bills, or other documents that contain personal information, including your SSN.
- Protect Your Mail – If you go on vacation, make arrangements with a trusted friend or neighbor to collect your mail while you’re gone. Stealing mail from outdoor mailboxes is an easy way for thieves to access your personal information.
3. Watch Out for Social Security Scams
Social security scams are on the rise, and fraudsters have developed sophisticated tactics including impersonating the real Social Security Administration’s phone number on Caller ID.
So how can you tell if you’re speaking to a real agent from the Social Security Administration or an imposter trying to commit social security fraud? Whether they try to make contact via phone call, email, internet ad, or text message, there are telltale signs of a Social security scam.²
- Intimidation – Thieves will often use scare tactics or threats. They may say that your SSN will be suspended if you don’t take certain actions, and may threaten you with arrest.
- Requests or Demands for Money – They may claim that you need to move your money in order to protect it, or offer to fix the “problem” in exchange for financial payments via gift card, wire transfer, digital currency, or cash. (“Your Social Security number has been frozen, but we’ll help you keep your money ‘safe’!”³)
- Promises of Reward – Scammers may even promise that you’ll receive an increase in government benefits if you make a payment.
If you think you’ve been contacted by a fraudster, do not engage with them. Hang up the phone and do not click on links within emails or SMS. Report suspicious activity to the Office of the Inspector General.
4. Monitor Your Identity
Keeping tabs on your identity can give you timely information on whether your SSN has been compromised and can help you respond quickly to suspicious activity.
Regularly check your credit report and bank statements for suspicious activity, and consider signing up for an identity monitoring service. With Identity Champion’s Protect and Complete plans, you’ll receive alerts when our monitoring service detects:
- Fraudulent activity associated with your SSN number
- Your personal information being bought, sold, or traded across online black markets
- Hard inquiries into your credit file for bank credit cards, auto loans, payday loans, and more
- Third parties attempting to open new financial accounts in your name or gain access to existing accounts
- Criminal records associated with your name
- And more
Your Social Security Number is an extremely sensitive piece of personal information. Sign up for Identity Champion Protect or Complete to see what our SSN Monitoring and other identity monitoring features turn up — and have hands-on identity restoration agents at your disposal in case you find something suspicious.