I Just Gave My Social Security Number to a Stranger
Big data breaches are certainly something to be concerned about, but you might slip on your own and accidentally give your personal information away. When that happens, you can change some information like your credit card number and even your health insurance ID.
When your Social Security number is accessed, however, it’s not so easy to change.
Can I Change My Social Security Number?
If your Social Security number has been put to nefarious use, you can try to have it changed. The Social Security Administration (SSA) can change your social security number only if:
- Sequential numbers assigned to members of the same family are causing problems.
- More than one person is assigned or using the same number.
- A victim of identity theft continues to be disadvantaged by using the original number.
- There is a situation of harassment, abuse, or life endangerment; or
- An individual has religious or cultural objections to certain numbers or digits in the original number.
You’ll need to do the following to qualify:
- Apply in person at a Social Security office.
- Provide a statement explaining the reasons for needing a new number.
- Provide current, credible, third-party evidence documenting the reasons for needing a new number.
- Provide original documents establishing U.S. citizenship or work-authorized immigration status, age, identity, and evidence of a legal name change, if appropriate.
Even then, notes Adam Levin, co-founder of Credit.com and author of “Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers, and Identity Thieves,” it can be difficult – if not downright impossible – to get a new number. If you do qualify, you may want to carefully consider the impact of making a switch. In many cases, employment information and medical records are associated with your former Social Security number.
What If a Stranger Has My SSN?
“If you know your Social Security number has been compromised,” Levin said, “you should do a credit freeze.” Credit freezes let consumers deny potential creditors access to their credit reports. This protects them from having new accounts created in their name, especially when their credit is frozen at each major credit reporting agency.
Of course, a credit freeze will also make it harder for you to take out new lines of credit. You would have to thaw your report and then refreeze it (often for a price) before applying for a loan. You can lessen the hassle by asking a prospective creditor what bureau they use to check credit. If there’s only one, you only need to thaw your report with that single bureau.
If you’re hesitant to freeze your reports, at the very least, you should monitor your credit. You can sign up for credit monitoring or fraud alerts with each bureau, and you can check your credit yourself. (You can pull your credit reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com and view your credit score for free each month on Credit.com.)
Signs that your identity has been stolen include unfamiliar addresses and accounts, and a sudden drop in your credit score.
Social Security Number Protection Tips
- Avoid entering your SSN in any document or application. If your application is denied due to a lack of SSN, ask if they’d consider alternative identification.
- Request that your bank never require your SSN for identity verification. There are other options. This way, the bank will be alerted if a fraudster tries to use your number.
- Shred any document with your SSN before throwing it away.
- Don’t use any part of your SSN as a password.
- Never e-mail your SSN. If someone legitimately wants it, talk with them in person or via phone. Do not leave it on a voicemail!
- Never give your number to someone asking for it over the phone unless you are 100% certain it’s legitimate. If you get a call and are told you’ve won a prize, and they want your SSN, hang up.
- Never carry your SSN card out in public; memorize the number. Hide the card or lock it in a safe.
- Every year, you should receive a Social Security statement booklet in the mail. Note your income. If it’s inflated, someone else may be using your SSN.
- If your number is in your device or laptop, it should be in an encrypted document to ensure its safety in case you’re hacked.
Protect Your Child’s Social Security Number
And don’t forget about your child’s Social Security number. Child identity theft is a huge concern!
- Extend your identity theft protection to include the SSNs of your children. Teach them not to give their number out.
- See if the doctor’s office will take just the insurance account number when handling your child’s healthcare.
- Ask how schools are securing your child’s SSN.
Today, your Social Security number is integral to proving your identity. That makes it essential to use it wisely, store it properly, and keep it away from anyone who would abuse it. Having an identity theft protection service that monitors for suspicious activity and helps resolve any issues is important to keep you and your family protected. Learn more about identity theft protection.