A:

In general, the Social Security Administration, or SSA, does not encourage citizens to change their Social Security numbers, or SSNs. However, exceptions are made under certain circumstances. Victims of identity theft or abuse are the most likely candidates for new numbers.

Identity Theft

Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes worldwide. In addition to trolling 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 posing as an employer, bank employee or insurance agent.

Once your identity is stolen, it may not be possible to truly get it back. If someone manages to steal your SSN, he can easily use it to obtain other information about you, such as your name, birthday and credit information. Armed with this knowledge, a criminal can simply open up any number of new credit cards under your name, use them until the credit limits are met and then never repay the debts.

Often, a person does not know his identity has been stolen until he begins receiving calls from creditors or is turned down for a loan due to a bad credit score. In some cases, the damage is irreparable.

Harassment and Abuse

Sometimes it becomes necessary for a person escaping a violent relationship or other life-threatening situation to shed a previous identity to protect himself. Victims of domestic violence and stalking, or those who are under threat of physical harm, often must choose between the stress of starting over and the fear of staying put. The SSA does not normally issue new SSNs but does so to assist those whose safety is in danger.

Other Reasons

Of course, there are other reasons a person might want to change his SSN that are much less serious. The SSA may approve a change if similar numbers within a family unit cause confusion, for example, or if two identical numbers have been issued in error. If you have a religious objection to a certain number or sequence of numbers within your current SSN, you may also qualify.

Not So Fast

The SSA does not provide replacement numbers for those who are attempting to avoid the consequences of bankruptcy or are evading the law. In addition, you will not be issued a new number if you have lost your Social Security card but there is no evidence your number is being used by someone else.

Changing Your Social Security Number

To change your SSN for any reason, you must apply in person at any Social Security office. 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 any identity theft, abuse or harassment. In addition, you must provide documentation of your U.S. citizenship or legal residency, age, identity and current SSN. If you have custody of any children or changed your name in the past, supporting documentation must also be provided. Specific guidelines apply regarding acceptable sources and types of documentation.

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