Tips to Protecting Your Social Security Number

Do you worry about your personal security? Learn how and why you need to keep your Social Security number safe.

If you are like most people, your personal security is of the utmost importance to you. You most likely take steps each day to keep yourself and your property safe, such as locking your home or car. However, keeping your personal information safe is equally important. In fact, the number of identity thieves looking to steal personal information is steadily increasing.

One of the most important pieces of personal information you have is your Social Security number (SSN). A Social Security number is nine digits that are completely unique to you. The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses that number to distribute Social Security benefits to you. You must also produce your Social Security number when applying for jobs or signing up for certain programs run by the federal government. Due to its importance, protecting your Social Security number is essential. Below are some specific reasons to protect your Social Security number and methods you can use to keep it safe.

How a Thief Can Use Your Social Security Number

An identity thief may wish to steal your Social Security number for a variety of reasons besides defrauding the SSA itself. For example, the thief may have a criminal record making it difficult for him or her to gain employment. Your SSN provides a way to apply for a job disguised as you. Alternatively, the thief may steal your SSN and use it to drain your bank accounts. Thus, he or she can avoid getting a job at all. A thief may also choose to use your SSN to do one or more of the following:

  • Open new bank accounts in your name.

  • Sign up for fraudulent credit cards.

  • Make purchases, including large items like automobiles and leave you with the debts.

  • Commit tax fraud.

  • Seek medical assistance. 

If the identity thief is ever arrested and provides your Social Security number to law enforcement officials, you may also become entangled in extra legal problems. By posing as you, the thief may cause his or her crimes to show up on your personal criminal record. That may impede your progress if you ever seek a new job. If you get pulled over for a traffic stop, it may also cause police to detain you for an extended time period. All of these and more are excellent reasons to do everything you can to keep your Social Security number away from prying eyes. Here are some options for protecting it. 

Know When to Provide Your Social Security Number

Many thieves try to obtain SSNs by pretending they are messaging or calling from legitimate companies. Knowing which companies you need to provide your SSN to can help you make sure it stays secure. For example, any banks with which you do business require your SSN. The same is true for federal agencies, your state Department of Motor Vehicles, and any company at which you are applying for employment. The best method for protecting your SSN when dealing with those agencies is to initiate contact via phone yourself or visit their offices in person. If you receive a call, you cannot guarantee the person you are speaking to works for a legitimate company.

Keep Your Social Security Card in a Safe Place

Another way to keep your SSN safe is to protect your Social Security card. Keep it in a safe place, and make sure that place is not your wallet or purse. It is too easy for a thief to steal a purse or wallet. You might also easily lose your wallet or purse. Only carry your card with you when you need to bring it to a specific place for a certain purpose. For example, a new place of employment may require you to bring your card to work once. You may also occasionally need to present your Social Security card at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Ask Questions and Provide Social Security Number Alternatives

When a person or company does request your SSN make sure you ask why it is needed. If you only need to prove identity or residency, you may have other options. Providing a driver's license, utility bills, or a passport may suffice. Any of those options are less likely to compromise your personal information in the same way a stolen SSN can.

Stay Mindful About Mentioning Your SSN When Writing, Typing, or Speaking

In general, it is never a good idea to type or write your Social Security number. Computerized messages are not secure. Similarly, written notes are easy to misplace or leave in places where  other people can access them. The best option is to memorize your SSN. When you need to supply it to an organization, do so in person or on the phone, and make sure nobody else is listening to you at the time. 

Giving out your SSN to an individual or organization is not the only possible way for a thief to steal it. You might also accidentally compromise it if you write or type it for another reason. For example, never use your SSN as a password for any of your online activities. It is an easy number for you to remember, but it is also easy for thieves to obtain once there is an electronic record of it.

Utilize Services for Identity Theft Protection

Identity theft protection services are also sometimes called identity monitoring services. They monitor your credit score and various other aspects of your day-to-day activities. The purpose is to quickly identify anomalies and report them. It is then up to you to confirm whether a problem exists. In some cases it may not, such as if you make purchases in another state while on vacation. However, when true dentity theft does occur programs like the following can assist you in securing your personal information again:

Continuously Monitor Your Accounts and Correspondence

The best way to protect your SSN is with consistent vigilance. Monitor your accounts closely at all times. At the first sign of an issue, report the problem to your banking institution or the SSA. Also, track your written correspondence carefully. Whenever you receive mail that includes your full SSN or part of it, destroy that mail as soon as you no longer need it. In the meantime, keep it in a safe place like a locked filing cabinet. Careful monitoring and use of monitoring programs can help keep your SSN safe and help you maintain your peace of mind.