Very few things in life create a higher degree of stress and hassle than having your Social Security Number (SSN) stolen, especially during a pandemic like we are now experiencing. This is because, unlike other forms of ID, the SSN is virtually permanent. While most instances of SSN theft are outside your control, there are some things that you can do to minimize the risk of this ever happening to you.
- Never carry your card. Place your SSN card in a safe place. This place is NEVER your wallet or purse. Only take the card with you when you need it, then return it immediately to your designated safe place.
- Know who needs it. As identity theft becomes more common, there are fewer people or organizations who really need to know your Social Security number. Here is a list of entities who still need your SSN:
- The government. Federal and state governments use this number to track your earnings for retirement benefits and to ensure you pay proper taxes.
- Your employer. The SSN is used to track your wages and withholdings. It is also used as proof of citizenship and to contribute to your Social Security and Medicare accounts.
- Certain financial institutions. Your SSN is used by various financial institutions to prove citizenship, open bank accounts, provide loans and establish other forms of credit. Investment companies need SSNs to prove identity and also for tax reporting purposes.
- Know who really does not need it. Many other vendors may ask for your Social Security number, but having it is not an essential requirement. The most common requests come from health care providers and insurance companies. But the request for your number may come from anyone who wishes to collect an unpaid bill. When asked on a form for your number, leave it blank. Challenge the provider if it is requested.
- Destroy and distort. Shred any documents that have your SSN listed. When providing copies of your tax return to anyone, distort or cover your SSN. Remember your entire SSN could appear on the top of each page of Form 1040, although that is becoming less common. If the government requests your SSN on a check payment, only place the last four digits on the check, while pre-filling the first five digits with x’s. As a Johnson Bixby client, we allow our clients to bring in one paper box worth of documents to securely shred, if you choose!
- Keep your scammer alert on high. Never give out your SSN over the phone or via email. Do not even confirm your SSN to someone who happens to read it back to you on the phone. If this happens to you, file a police report and report the theft to the IRS and Federal Trade Commission. When sending personal information electronically to a trusted entity we encourage clients to use ShareFile, as that is a safe, encrypted way to send secure or personal information.
- Proactively check for use. Periodically check your credit reports for potential use of your SSN. If suspicious activity is found, have the credit agencies place a fraud alert on your account. Remember, everyone is entitled to a free credit report once a year. Multiple businesses can provide you with your free credit report.
Replacing a stolen SSN is not only hard to do, it can create hardships. You will need to re-establish your credit history, re-assign your SSN benefits history, and realign your tax records. Your best defense is to stop the theft before it happens.