All of your life, you’ve been told to keep your Social Security number secret and safe. However, it’s often requested during life’s everyday moments, such as when you visit the doctor, open a bank account or start a new job. Have you ever considered how safe it is when you share your Social Security number?
Data Safety Is in Question
This can be problematic, especially since data breaches are commonplace. It seems like one is always in the news these days. While the government hasn’t indicated the total number of Social Security numbers subject to theft or fraud, a 2015 NPR interview that included data from Verizon, reveals that 60-80% of numbers have already been accessed by hackers.
These stats are even more frightening when you consider that the government doesn’t like to replace numbers. In 2014, they issued fewer than 250 new Social Security numbers due to misuse. Given that incidents of fraud continue to rise, and how devastating the Equifax breach was, it may not be realistic to rely on the government to fix the problem. (For more, see: Equifax Data Breach Worse Than Previously Thought.)
It’s crucial to recognize the dangers and do what you can to protect yourself. While we can’t do much against substantial data breaches, there are a few recommended steps you can take to do your part in securing your Social Security info.
Don’t Give Out Your Number
It sounds simple, but there are many occasions you may be asked for your Social Security info. The problem is that you are rarely obligated to comply. Except for your job, financial institutions, the IRS and other government programs, no one should require you to give it out.
You may have to really push back, but you can even tell your healthcare provider “no” if you wish. Considering that many breaches have involved medical records, it’s not a bad idea to shut them down when they ask.
Run Your Credit Report Annually
While you can’t always tell if someone has your Social Security number, many of the red flags can be spotted on your free annual credit report from all three agencies. If someone has inquired about your credit using your number and without your permission, this will show.
You can also quickly check for suspicious new lines of credit. You are entitled to a free credit report each year from all three agencies, although you can pay for more frequent credit monitoring and identity protection from companies like Credit Karma or LifeLock.
Take Advantage of Free Monitoring
With millions of consumers affected by breaches each year, it’s become standard practice for hacked companies to offer free credit monitoring and fraud detection as a courtesy to those involved. Don’t hesitate to sign up for these services and use them. Since most people don’t realize that their number has been stolen until something terrible happens, be sure to speak up if you believe you are a target.
The Bottom Line
The threat of having your Social Security number compromised is very real. It's key to make sure you take steps to protect and monitor your Social Security info.
While the government won’t likely give you a new number, it can usually offer you a workaround in instances where it affects your daily financial life. Many taxpayers, for example, only learn of a compromised number when they file their return. Getting it straightened out with the IRS may take a while, but you can start matters without delay. Providing proof of any communications or suspicious activity can help move your case along and give you the time you need to work issues out. (For more from this author, see: 10 Things to Know About Social Security Benefits.)
Disclosure: The information being provided is strictly as a courtesy. When you link to any of these web-sites provided here, you are leaving this site. Our company makes no representation as to the completeness or accuracy of information provided at these sites. Nor is the company liable for any direct or indirect technical or system issues or any consequences arising out of your access to or your use of third-party technologies, sites, information and programs made available through this site. This information is not intended to be legal or tax advice. The author can provide information, but not advice related to social security benefits. Clients should seek guidance from the Social Security Administration regarding their particular situation. Social Security benefit payout rates can and will change at the sole discretion of the Social Security Administration. For more information, please consult a local Social Security Administration office, or visit www.ssa.gov.