It might be surprising to know that when Social Security numbers were first given out in the 1930s, that they were not used as a form of identification. However, whether you know it or not, most of us use our SSN every day, from visiting our doctor’s office to doing banking transactions. Your Social Security number is likely being accessed by humans and computers on a daily basis.
Your Social Security number is a form of verification, authentication, and it is even used as a password. Simply having it, simply knowing it, and entering it, verifies and authenticates its holder. However, it shouldn’t be like that at all.
You need your Social Security number to apply for a job, to open credit cards, and even to get married. Since we use this number so often, you might be wondering what happens if it gets stolen. Here’s what you should do:
Fraud Alert – The first thing to do is to get in contact with one of the three major credit bureaus. That one bureau then contacts the other two bureaus. You must put a fraud alert on your report. When you do this, a creditor or lender hopefully will use much stricter guidelines when they get a credit application. Keep in mind that these alerts only last for 365 days, but you can get an extension. Also keep in mind that this is not a full proof plan, the lender may not enable these stricter guidelines at all.
Credit Freezes – You should also consider freezing your credit. When this happens, you cannot use your credit to refinance or open a new line of credit until you go through the unfreezing process. Keep your credit frozen, and then unthaw it when you need it. Getting a credit freeze is a pretty simple process, it does require a bit of effort and organization, however it is a great way to protect your identity from new account fraud, we will discuss this in more detail and future posts.
Get ID Theft Protection – You should also think about getting ID theft protection. This can be an investment for some, but it also ensures that there is someone monitoring your credit 24/7. Identity theft protection services don’t actually protect you from much in the way of new account fraud, account take over, credit card fraud, criminal identity theft, tax related identity theft, medical related identity theft, but nothing else does either. However, what identity theft protection service does do is monitor your credit and there is an insurance component that kicks in and activates “identity theft expert restoration agents” that fix stolen identities. These people can get you back on track quickly if your identity is stolen.
Keep an Eye on Your Credit – If around 90 days have passed, and you don’t see anything weird on your credit report, don’t think that this automatically mean you are safe. A thief can use your info in other ways, too, so keep an eye on your credit report. Also keep in mind that your Social Security number can be used by a thief in perpetuity or until about six months after your perish. You can get a free copy online at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Be Cautious When Online – Finally, it is important that you make sure that you are using caution when online. Cybercriminal know every trick in the book, and people fall for them all of the time. Here are some things to remember:
- Do not click on any email links. This is true even if it is from someone you know. Unless you are expecting it, do not click on anything in an email.
- Do not open any email that is found in your spam folder.
- Do not open emails that have sensational or exaggerated subject lines.
- If you have the choice to use two-factor authentication, you should do it.
- Have a firewall, an antivirus program, and anti-malware software.
- Create a unique password for each account you have. Make sure that they are hard to guess, and don’t let them contain information like your name, pet’s name, etc.
- Use a password manager.
- Shred all of your documents that contain personal information before you put them into your garbage.
- Don’t give your Social Security number out to anyone unless it is a total necessity.
Remember, if your credit is frozen and if you have identity theft protection combined, you have “multiple layers of security” and you can give your Social Security number out without much of a worry.