What do you do if your Social Security number is stolen and your ID compromised? We’ve got the full guide below, helping you to restore your identity and get back your stolen Social Security number as quickly as possible.
The Social Security number system used in the U.S. assigns each person a unique string of digits that are required for everything from filing tax returns to getting a new job. There’s no shortage of controversy surrounding the Social Security number system used in the United States as a method of personal identification. A nine digit number is extraordinarily easy to steal, and it’s dangerous to hook so much confidential data into a single string of numbers.
Until the system is overhauled and something more reliable replaces it, Americans are stuck with this outdated system. Do everything you can to keep it safe, including running a secure browser, performing background checks on yourself to look for leaks, using a reliable VPN to encrypt data, and of course, partnering with an identity protection service for ongoing scans and breach alerts.
Stop Social Security number fraud with identity theft protection services
The aging Social Security number system doesn’t do much to keep your identity secure. Instead, you need to take steps yourself to lock down your information and prevent as many breaches as possible. While this isn’t feasible in many situations, there’s one thing you can do that provides an enormous amount of protection: using a secure identity theft protection service.
How identity theft protection services work
Joining an identity theft protection service means automating everything from ID scans to Social Security number usage warnings, credit card fraud detection, and more. A good identity theft protection service will monitor public records and even social media sites to keep tabs on your identity. If something shows up where it shouldn’t be, such as your Social Security number appearing on a foreign website, they alert you and provide recovery steps to prevent damage to your identity.
We tested and researched the top identity protection services to find out which ones are best at helping you avoid Social Security number and ID theft. The results are below, both of which are fast, easy to use, affordable, and remarkably thorough.
Identity Force is a full-service protection solution used by countless customers for identity theft prevention and ID recovery. Anyone who needs strong protection, including services to avoid tax refund ID theft or protect Social Security numbers, will feel right at home with Identity Force. The company offers monitoring, alerts, and recovery services with an easy to understand interface and fast notifications. With Identity Force, you can guard against damage caused by identity theft, get instant alerts when trouble arises, watch your Social Security number for fraud, and even receive personalized assistance in case an identity breach does occur.
Identity Force is incredibly easy to use. As soon you enter your details you can let the company do its job, all quietly and in the background. Identity Force actively scans everything from credit card numbers to your name, address, Social Security number, and more, checking millions of databases, social media posts, and public records across the internet for suspicious activity. If a tax refund fraud is in the works, it will help you stay ahead of the thieves every time.
Fast, thorough, and easy to use, Identity Force is one of the best identity theft protection services on the market. It’s also backed by a $1 million insurance policy, covering you and your assets in the most extreme of circumstances.
Identity Guard offers complete identity theft protection that covers personal data and financial information, family member details, tax refunds, business interests, and of course, Social Security numbers. It comes with full monitoring and alerts that create a powerful early warning system backed by IBM’s artificial intelligence system. Identity Guard monitors billions of data points for vulnerabilities, including credit card records and data from the dark web, creating an impenetrable radar that catches even the smallest breaches and notifies you right away.
The Identity Guard service offers full scanning, monitoring, and alerts for all of its users, allowing you to discover and react to threats as quickly as possible. This is powered by IBM’s Watson technology, utilizing cutting edge AI to keep your identity safe. Even if all of these precautions fail, Identity Guard offers a $1 million insurance policy to ensure you’re never left out in the cold after an attack.
Identity Guard is a powerful and easy to use service that offers some of the most thorough ID scanning around. It’s one of the most affordable services, as well, making it a great entry point into the world of identity theft protection and recovery.
Social Security number protection
Social Security numbers are far from private. They’re necessary for starting new jobs, renting apartments, getting medical services, and so much more. Using them means putting your data at risk, but unfortunately, there’s no way around it. Below we’ll take a quick look at how Social Security number fraud happens.
How do scammers steal your Social Security number?
Identity thieves have plenty of methods at their disposal for taking your confidential Social Security number. In the days before the Internet, they usually had to find it by going through your trash and stumbling upon unshredded financial documents. Now, though, digital records make it easier to capture more people’s identities with less effort.
- Buying personal information from hackers who steal it en masse.
- Getting access to public databases leaked or stolen from large companies.
- Getting it from unprotected documents at work or home offices.
- Going through the trash at your place of residence or at businesses.
- Posing as authority figures by phone, text, or e-mail, pretending to be tax collectors, landlords, or employers.
- Stealing wallets, purses, smartphones, tablets, and laptops. All of these usually have Social Security information readily at hand.
- Taking personal information entered into unsecured websites.
Basic Social Security number precautions
Your Social Security number is confidential. You should never share it with anyone who doesn’t need it for business or financial purposes. Along with this basic caution, follow the other tips below to keep your SSN safe and secure.
- Don’t carry your Social Security card on your person. Leave it in a secure storage space at your home.
- Don’t use your number as a username or password on websites.
- Keep any document that displays even a portion of your SSN safely out of view.
- Make sure your employer has your correct Social Security number so their records are correct. This helps prevent unintentional fraud.
- Shred any paper document that shows your Social Security number before recycling it.
What to do if your Social Security number is stolen
Even if you take full precautions, it’s possible your Social Security number can be stolen. If you think this might have happened to you, follow the steps below to minimize the damage and begin the recovery process.
1 – Identify what kind of theft it is
Social Security number theft can be the result of fraud, scams, massive breaches, or even accidents. Before you proceed, you need to know how far the issue goes. Did you simply misplace your Social Security card at home? Did you leave it somewhere where it will likely be found by a stranger? Was it stolen? Did you notice bank account or credit hits against your identity that you did not initiate?
If you’re sure your Social Security number is at risk of being compromised, or if you already see the signs, it’s a fair bet that you should continue with the steps below. You can’t really be too cautious about this sort of thing, after all.
2 – Report the theft
The Social Security Administration in the U.S. states that they cannot help with cases of stolen SSNs or fraud involving the same. Instead, you’ll need to report the incident to the U.S. government’s official identity theft bureau at IdentityTheft.gov. This site is run by the Federal Trade Commission and is used as a first resource for reporting and recovering from identity fraud, including the loss of a Social Security number.
Go through the steps provided by IdentityTheft.gov. They will ask for certain information from you and will provide step by step recovery plans you should follow right away. Don’t wait for the weekend or hold out for a break in your schedule. The longer you wait, the more damage can be done to your identity.
3 – File a police report, if applicable
If your card was physically stolen, or if you’re confident the theft happened in the area, go ahead and file a report with your local police department. They will most likely not be able to do anything, but it’s good to start the paper trail so you have a clear record of the incident on file.
4 – Request a credit freeze
Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion are the three credit monitoring bureaus in the United States. They keep track of what accounts are active and related to which Social Security numbers, which makes them excellent one-stop resources for monitoring identity fraud. If someone has your SSN, they will likely try to open new accounts or take out massive loans. You can protect yourself by requesting a credit freeze from these three bureaus.
5 – Contact the company where the SSN scam happened
If you think your Social Security number was compromised from a particular company, contact their fraud department and inform them of the situation. Again, they may not be able to do anything, but they should be aware of the situation and may be liable for damages caused to your identity.
6 – Request a new Social Security number
This is a painful step, but it’s not entirely required, especially if you’re confident the SSN leak was minimal and you still have your card in hand. Requesting a new Social Security number from the Social Security Administration is a lengthy and involved process. You have to have proof that your number was stolen, that you suffered as a result of the incident, and that you’ve done everything possible to catch the thief. You also have to make sure your old Social Security number is still valid.
If you’ve suffered from extreme SSN or identity theft, this may be your best course of action. See the information page on the Social Security Adminstration website to get started with replacing your number with a new one.
Prevent your Social Security number from being stolen
Recovering from a stolen Social Security number is no easy task. In fact, you can never really be entirely sure that your SSN is safe afterwards. For this reason, prevention is by far your best tool. Stay safe, stay cautious, and you can keep your identity secure. Follow the tips below to lock down your data.
Join an identity theft monitoring service
You can’t possibly keep tabs on every piece of your personal data across the entirety of the Internet, there’s simply too much to watch for. Using services like Identity Force and Identity Guard, discussed in detail above, can help do this work for you. They utilize powerful technology that watches for unusual activity surrounding your personal details. As soon as something suspicious arises, they send you a notification and you can spring into action. Services like this also offer fraud resolution and ID theft insurance to keep you safe from more extreme circumstances, as well.
Use a VPN on your devices
Virtual private networks are one of the fastest, easiest, and most affordable ways to add encryption to your devices, and encryption is a foundational aspect of online privacy. With a secure VPN in place, every piece of data that leaves your device will be wrapped in a layer of impenetrable code. Even if a thief did scoop up your Social Security number, they would be unable to read it, as only the VPN itself can decrypt the code to see what’s inside.
VPNs do more than just keep your data safe, they also allow you to stay anonymous thanks to non-local virtual IP addresses, a feature that makes it possible to stream videos from around the world, break through censorship barriers, and much more. Make sure you use a reputable service, though, as free VPNs can be dangerous and are often the source of identity leaks in the first place!
Protect confidential information
Bank statements, credit card account information, and any piece of paper that can be linked to your Social Security number or identity should be shredded as soon as they’re not needed. Don’t just drop them in the recycling bin, cut them into pieces or utilize a paper shredding machine. A similar philosophy holds true for digital records. Don’t store e-mails or receipts with your Social Security number on them unless you need to.
Furthermore, your personal information can only truly stay safe if you keep it to yourself. Never enter your details into a website you don’t trust 100%. Check that the URL is correct, and make sure the HTTPS lock icon is green in your browser window before typing in your details. Avoid signing up for services you don’t need, too, as they can be potential sources of data breaches, which can severely compromise your information.
Use a secure browser
Browsers are the contact point for most of your online data. Unfortunately, not all of them are built with your security as a number one priority. If you’re using Microsoft Edge or Chrome, for example, you’re not enjoying all of the privacy or security features a web browser can offer.
A much better browser choice is either Firefox or Brave. Each are made specifically to provide users with as much identity and data protection as possible, going so far as to prevent phishing scams and making it difficult to enter your information into an insecure site. They also work on multiple platforms, including Mac, PC, Linux, and smartphones. For more suggestions, check out our guide to the most secure browsers.
Along with using a better browser, you should also install secure extensions that watch for threatening scripts, block unwanted ads, and keep your data as safe as possible. Check out our guide on the 8 must-have browser extensions to get started.
Use better passwords
If you use the same password for more than one site, or if any of your passwords too short or involve recognizable phrases such as your pet or spouse’s name, you are putting your information at risk. Password lists are routinely leaked or stolen from companies and released to the public, meaning your data could be freely available and easy to find.
Make sure you use a different secure password for each site or service you join, and make sure they follow the rules of being at least eight characters long, featuring a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, and include one or more non-standard symbols. If that sounds like a lot of work, consider a password management system like LastPass or Bitwarden. Create an account there, then let them store and enter data for you.
Social Security number theft is a very real issue millions of Americans deal with every year. Recovery is a long and drawn out process with very little in the form of restitution. With the right precautions you can keep yourself as safe as possible, and by joining a good identity theft monitoring service, you can act as soon as something suspicious occurs.
Got any tips on dealing with a stolen Social Security number? Share your experiences in the comments below!