Your Social Security number, a unique identifier issued by the Social Security Administration (SSA), is meant to stay with you for life and never change. But there are instances where the SSA makes exceptions. These include times when your safety is endangered or you are a victim of identity theft. Here is why some people change their Social Security numbers and how to go about it if you wish to.
- The Social Security Administration generally discourages people from changing their Social Security number, except under certain circumstances.
- Acceptable reasons for obtaining a new number include ongoing identity theft or threat of personal harm, such as from domestic abuse.
- Receiving a new number doesn't erase the old one, which will remain on file at government agencies and some businesses.
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Why Change a Social Security Number?
The SSA generally discourages people from changing their Social Security number (SSN). But like many other rules, there can be exceptions. For example, the SSA may issue a new SSN if you are able to prove that using your existing number will cause you harm, such as in cases of domestic abuse or harassment. The agency also reissues Social Security numbers in certain instances when someone is a victim of identity theft.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is that even if you get a brand-new SSN, it doesn't mean you have wiped the slate clean. The SSA normally keeps records under the original SSN, and other government agencies, such as your state department of motor vehicles and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) do, as well. That also applies to some businesses, such as credit card companies, that maintain files on you.
Common Reasons for Changing a Social Security Number
As mentioned above, the SSA has relatively strict requirements for changing someone's Social Security number. For example, it won't provide one for a person who wants to avoid the consequences of bankruptcy or is evading the law. In addition, you can't get a new number if you simply lost your Social Security card, unless there is solid evidence that your number is being used by someone else. (You can, however, get a replacement Social Security card with your old number.)
Among the reasons that the SSA will accept for issuing a new number:
Harassment and abuse
Sometimes it becomes necessary for a person who's trying to escape a violent relationship or other life-threatening situation to shed their previous identity for protection. Domestic violence and stalking victims, or those who are under other threat of physical harm, may be eligible for new numbers.
Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States, the SSA notes, and Social Security numbers play a major role in that. In addition to combing the internet for unguarded information, thieves can obtain your SSN and other personal details by going through your trash, stealing your wallet, or contacting you by phone or email while posing as an employer, bank employee, or Social Security representative. Identity thieves often sell your information on the dark web or underground market.
Once your identity is stolen, it may not be possible to truly get it back. If someone manages to steal your SSN, they can use it to obtain other information about you, such as your name, birthday, and credit information. Armed with this knowledge, a criminal can open up any number of new credit card accounts under your name, use them until the credit limits are met, and never repay the debts. They can also file a false income tax return in your name in order to receive a fraudulent refund. If you can prove that your identity has been stolen and that it continues to be a problem, you may be eligible for a new number.
A person often does not know their identity has been stolen until they begin receiving calls from creditors or are turned down for a loan because of a poor credit score. That is a good reason to check your credit reports periodically and look for any accounts you don't recognize.
Other Reasons for Changing a Social Security Number
There are several other reasons that the SSA will issue a new number. For example, it may approve a change if similar numbers within a family unit cause confusion or if two identical numbers have been issued in error. If you have a religious objection to a certain number or sequence of numbers in your current SSN, you may also qualify for a change.
How to Change Your Social Security Number
To change your SSN for any reason, you must apply in person at a local Social Security office. You can find its address and phone number using the Social Security Office Locator.
After providing a statement explaining why you need a new number, you must provide credible, third-party documentation of your reason, including medical, legal, or police documents regarding identity theft, abuse, or harassment.
You will need to fill out a new Form SS-5, the same one that you (or your parents) may have filled out to apply for a Social Security number and card in the first place. It asks a series of questions, including whether you or someone acting on your behalf ever filed for or received a Social Security number and card before and, if so, under what name.
In addition, you must provide documentation of your U.S. citizenship or legal residency, age, identity, and current SSN. If you changed your name legally in the past, you'll also need to provide supporting documentation of that.
The Bottom Line
The Social Security Administration does allow you to change your number, but only under limited circumstances, such as identity theft or if your safety is in danger. You will also need to supply appropriate documentation to support your application for a new number.