Not only does your Social Security number stay with you for life, but you need it for many significant transactions—particularly because it’s one of the ways the credit reporting bureaus identifies you. So what should you do if you lose your card or if someone steals it? In this article, you’ll learn about steps that you can take to protect yourself after your Social Security number is compromised.
(To learn about reporting a stolen card to the authorities, read Filing Police Reports and Identity Theft Reports.)
How to Examine Your Credit History
In the wrong hands, a Social Security number can be used to open new lines of credit or access bank accounts. So if your Social Security number is lost or stolen, one of the first things you should do for security’s sake is to check your credit history.
Fortunately, it won’t cost you anything to do so. A free credit report is available every year through the annualcreditreport.com website. You’ll want to pull a report from each of the three large reporting agencies —TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian—because the information collected by the different agencies is not identical.
It's important to address any information or activity that you don’t recognize on your report with the reporting agency. Each agency has a process for removing inaccurate information; however, keep a paper trail of any correspondence you have in case you need to prove that you asked for the information to be removed.
Additionally, you might want to ask the agency for a credit freeze (also known as a security freeze). Before a lender can open a new account using your information, it will be required to call and confirm that you requested the new account.
Finally, it’s a good idea to review your bank account for any suspicious account activity to ensure that no one has been accessing your accounts. If you suspect someone has tampered with your account, notify your bank immediately.
How to Replace Your Social Security Card
Residents of some states can obtain a replacement card online. In others, you must apply for a new card in person at your local Social Security office. If you fall into the second category, you’ll be asked to present the following documents:
- a completed Form SS-5 application (you can find the form on the Social Security Administration website)
- proof of identification, such as a current driver's license, and
- evidence of your U.S. citizenship or current legal non-citizen status (required in some circumstances only).
You’ll take the same steps to acquire a replacement card if someone steals your Social Security card. Your information will not change. The new card will show the same name and number.
You won’t have to pay to replace your card but you’re limited to ten cards during your lifetime (three cards per year). Name changes and other legal status changes won’t count towards your total allotment. Even if you exceed the ten card limit, you might be able to get another if you can provide a good reason why you need it.
How to Check Your Social Security Earnings Record
An inaccurate earnings history can cause problems with your tax filings or if you later need to apply for disability benefits. As a result, it’s important to obtain a copy of your earnings record through the Social Security Administration website or by calling 1-800-772-1213. If you see earnings on your report that do not belong to you, report the inaccuracy by calling the Social Security Administration's Fraud Hotline at 1-800-269-0271.
If you want a new Social Security number, be aware that the Social Security Administration will only issue a new number under certain circumstances—and losing a card is not enough. You’ll be able to get a new number in the following situations:
- Family members are having problems with sequentially assigned numbers
- Someone else is using your number.
- You cannot resolve Social Security number issues resulting from identity theft.
- A new number would help prevent harassment, abuse, or endangerment.
- You have a religious or cultural objection to the digits in your number (you must provide proof of your group affiliation).
You might be surprised to learn that requesting a new number can cause new problems, too. For example:
- It can be time-consuming to switch your number with institutions such as the Internal Revenue Service, the bureau or department of motor vehicles, and your bank.
- Credit reporting companies use more than just your Social Security number to identify you, so all of your credit problems might not go away.
- Getting new credit might be difficult because of the lack of credit history associated with your new number.
How to Protect Your Social Security Number
You’ll likely want to avoid carrying your card in your purse or wallet unless you know you're going to need it, and never send your number over email or give it out over the telephone. Your Social Security number is confidential, and in nearly all situations, disclosing your number is your choice—even when you’re asked for it directly. If someone asks you for your number, you’ll want to find out why it’s needed, and what the ramifications will be if you refuse to provide it.
(Learn about other types of help available in Consumer Protection Laws.)
Questions for Your Attorney
- What can I do to prevent someone from using my Social Security number in the future?
- Should I apply for a new number?
- Can I take action against a credit reporting bureau that isn’t removing erroneous information?