You check your credit report one morning and notice your score is low. Or, maybe you apply for an apartment or mortgage loan on a home and are denied. You know that you pay your credit card bills every month and keep a low balance on open cards, and wonder what could be wrong?
One possibility is identity theft has occurred, and your security number was compromised. Your social security number (SSN) is used in banking and loans, for business and tax matters, with financial data, home ownership and more.
Not only should you protect your social security number, but if banks and other institutions don’t, your SSN could still be at risk which might leave your data open to criminal intrusion! Let us explore why your SSN matters, how to protect it, and what to do if it is compromised!
What is a Social Security Number?
A social security number or SSN is a 9-digit number which the United States issues to permanent residents, citizens, and temporary working residents through the authority of 205(c)(2) of the Social Security Act 42 U.S.C. § 405(c)(2). First issued in 1935, it was part of Roosevelt’s “New Deal“, and its essential and use has increased ever since.
Why Are Social Security Numbers Important?
A social security number is the premiere number which attaches to one’s legal name and documents the financial history and compliance with payments or loans, etc. An SSN is used for banking and finances, credit scores and cards, loans, rentals and homes, and defaulted payment in any of those categories.
A cyber-thief can get a hold of your social security number through you, your computer, or a company breach, and apply for credit cards under your name or wire money out of your bank. They will fraudulently use your accounts to buy goods and purchases, which will then leave a trail of debt under your name. This will limit your ability in many areas of your life (home, work, leisure, financial, etc.) and the negative ramifications could last for years!
How Can You Keep Your Social Security Number out of the Wrong Hands?
- Use 2-way authentication on your accounts, change your passwords regularly, and make your passwords hard to guess.
- When asked to verify your SSN (say with your cell or credit card company), ask to authenticate using a different method (such as your mother’s maiden name, etc.)
- Shred all of your financial and sensitive documents. Do this weekly, so the difficulty of this task doesn’t build up.
- Never use your SSN as a password or share it with anyone.
- Regularly monitor bank statements, credit cards, and credit score(s).
- Never give your SSN to anyone who calls you on the phone (or emails!) claiming to be from your bank, etc.
- Listen to the news of significant company breaches and change your password when breaches occur. Look for mailings from the breached companies, on how they are remedying the situation.
How to Handle If Your Social Security Number Is Being Compromised?
Report Identity Theft
The Federal Trade Commission handles social security number theft for the social security administration. Immediately go to identitytheft.gov and follow the instructions on how to report the crime.
Contact Your Credit Card Companies
Request a “credit freeze”. This will protect your credit score in the short term, but it will also stop the hacker (and you, unfortunately) from getting new cards in your name, leasing apartments that check credit score, etc. A credit freeze is free in all 50 states.
File a Police Report
While the report itself may not catch the cyber-criminal, it will give you a police report number which you can reference and which makes you eligible for extended fraud alert. To get a fraud alert, ask you any company where your SSN was used fraudulently. Fraud alerts are free and can be in place from 90 days to one year.
Request a New Social Security Number
A new SSN isn’t always as an option. The Social Security Administration doesn’t give out new numbers to clear bad credit or mistakes on credit reports. They will, on occasion, give new numbers if someone has experienced great harm and gone to significant lengths to catch the identity theft criminal. Document your attempts to remedy identity theft and the ramifications of your experience.
Although there is always a chance that your data might be infiltrated through cyber-security hacks, negligence, or unintentionally, protecting yourself will make a difference.
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This will give you the data that crooks, criminals, and cyber-hackers can find out in an instant. Find out what hackers can, so you can begin to remove private online content that might put your financial security and family at risk.