Identity theft is a growing safety concern for individuals all over the world. It’s been a topic of drama and thriller movies recently, too, while the media also reports on the topic fairly often. Identity theft is not a new concept – not by a long shot. Identity theft and identity fraud have been around for a long time. It’s a phenomenon that’s most likely been around for millennia, in some form or another.
Now, however, we find that identity theft is increasingly perpetrated over the digital medium. And, since we’re connected almost all the time, with our sensitive personal information stored on devices that are connected to the world wide web, identity thieves use this avenue to carry out their heinous and life-ruining crimes.
One of the key methods to protecting yourself against identity theft is to protect your Social Security number. SSN fraud occurs when your Social Security number gets into the wrong hands. After all, this piece of information is a powerful one. Since it’s personally identifiable, you’ve got to make sure that it stays safe and out of prying eyes with malicious intent.
Identity theft cannot be prevented fully. This is the hard and unfortunate truth. Data breaches occur, and when they do, information is compromised – this information is related both to organizations and individuals. If identity theft does occur, it costs time and money to clear up. Part of that effort is taking stock of how much of your information and data has been compromised.
How Do Identity Thieves Use Your Social Security Number?
If your SSN has been compromised, you’ll have to find out what it’s been used for. It might be a while before it’s used for anything, in all honesty. Stolen personal information is often put up for sale on the dark web, where anonymous buyers will pay large sums of money for such information. Identity thieves use your SSN for a variety of activities, including opening bank accounts and new credit cards on your name. They even file tax returns on your name, so as to gain access to your refund. Your SSN can even be used to open service accounts in your name that you don’t know about, while they make use of utilities or internet services without your knowledge. All of this can get you into major debt and totally crash your credit score.
What Can I Do to Prevent Social Security Identity Theft?
There are a number of actions you can take, both on a daily basis and on a less frequent basis, to prevent SSN fraud. Some actions are based on common sense, while you may not have thought about other methods.
Leave Your Card at Home
Carrying your Social Security card around with you in your wallet may seem like the most sensible thing to do, but it can lead to problems if you’re not careful. If your wallet were to get stolen, your SSN details, bank cards and credit cards are together in one place, allowing for SSN fraud to occur rather easily. It’s quite rare that you’d need to have your card with you, so leave your Social Security card at home, in a safe place, so that you always know where to find it when you need it.
Memorize Your Number
For some people, memorizing can be difficult, but it’s worth it to make the effort. Learn your Social Security number by heart so that you’re more confident in leaving your card at home and away from others. This way, you won’t have to worry about writing it down on a piece of paper that can easily get in the wrong hands. No one else has access to your brain but you – or so we hope – so that’s the safest place to keep such sensitive information.
Unless Required, Keep It to Yourself
Maybe this goes without saying, but keep your Social Security number to yourself and don’t give it out to strangers. If you receive a call from someone you don’t know, don’t give away your SSN over the phone if they request it. Live by this rule when it comes to emails requesting your SSN, too. Unless you’re one hundred percent sure that an individual or organization needs your SSN, don’t give it out to anyone.
Keep an Eye on Your Bank and Credit Card Accounts
This is a safe rule to follow in general, throughout life. It can save you from a lot of issues, especially if you notice something’s wrong and it’s too late to do anything about it. By monitoring your bank and credit card card accounts, you should be able to know fairly quickly if your SSN has been compromised. Make the most of safety features offered by your banks, too, like account alerts. That way, you’ll be notified if an identity thief uses your SSN to access your account.
Use Alternative Forms of ID
Other forms of ID are often accepted by many organizations who require proof of identification. It’s safer to hand over your passport document or driver’s license than it is to hand over your Social Security number. If, however, they don’t accept alternative forms of ID, make a point of finding out how your SSN will be handled and why it’s necessary. Ask how your number will be stored and if adequate privacy policies are in place. Also, find out if liabilities are covered in the event that your SSN is compromised while in their hands.
Shred Important Documents
For an identity thief, discarded documents are a goldmine since important personal information is often present on these. If you have important documents that need to be discarded, and these documents contain sensitive information, get a paper shredder and shred those papers before disposing of them.