In 2021, more than 1.5 million Americans reported identity theft to the Consumer Sentinel Network, which is an investigative cyber tool operated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Identity theft was the top cause of complaints and was described as the appropriation of personal identifying information, including a Social Security number.
Identity theft can have serious consequences, including damage to your credit score and lost funds. Unfortunately, if you lose your Social Security card and the wrong people get ahold of it this puts you at serious risk of your identity being stolen. Here's why losing your card is a big problem and what to do if this happens to you.
5 steps to take if your Social Security card is lost
How to protect your Social Security card
Why losing your Social Security card matters
In the United States, virtually every legal resident is assigned a Social Security number. This is a unique identifying number that many government agencies and private businesses rely on.
Social Security numbers are provided on a Social Security card, which comes from the Social Security Administration. Parents can apply for a Social Security number for a newborn child, and will be sent a card for that child and adults can apply for one with proper proof of citizenship and identity.
A person's Social Security number is used to:
- Apply for government benefits, such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance benefits or housing subsidies
- Apply for credit, such as student loans or credit cards
- Track earnings for purposes of determining Social Security benefit eligibility
- Confirm a person's identity and eligibility to work
- File taxes with the IRS and state governments
- Obtain a U.S. passport
These are just some of the many ways a Social Security number can be used. As a result, if someone gets ahold of your Social Security card and obtains your number from it, you are at serious risk of identity theft.
That person could use your card to steal your benefits, apply for credit in your name, file a tax return in your name and obtain a refund, or even apply for a passport.
If you (or your parents) lose your card and you don't know your Social Security number, you could have difficulty applying for credit or doing any of the other tasks mentioned above. Scammers could obtain your Social Security number from your card and use it to steal your identity. And you won't have the card to show to potential employers or others who need to see the card to verify your identity.
5 steps to take if your Social Security card is lost
If your Social Security card is lost, you'll want to take smart steps to protect your identity and ensure you replace the card for when you need it. Here's what you need to do.
1. Freeze your credit
You cannot freeze your Social Security number, and if you suspect that someone is misusing yours, the Social Security Administration cannot help you. Even if you decide to try to apply for a new number, this typically won't solve your identity theft issues because credit reporting agencies and government agencies will still have the old number in their records.
What you can do, however, is put a security freeze on your credit. A credit freeze involves contacting the three major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — and telling the credit bureaus not to provide access to your credit report.
When identity thieves have your Social Security number and want to do something with it, such as applying for credit in your name, they would provide your number to potential lenders who would then go and try to check your credit history. If there is a freeze on your credit file, those lenders won't be able to access your report and will likely not allow the scammer to open a line of credit in your name.
2. File a police report
If you suspect your Social Security card was taken, or if your purse or wallet with your Social Security card was stolen, you should contact your local police department to file a report.
Police can investigate the theft and potentially take action against scammers who have stolen your information. You may also need the police report later to provide evidence that your identity was stolen.
3. File a fraud alert
If your Social Security number has been compromised, you can also file a fraud alert with the credit reporting agencies. This will provide notification to creditors that they need to take extra steps to verify your identity due to the high risk that a scammer is using your information.
When you place a fraud alert, it will last for a year and you have the option to renew it after that. You are also eligible to obtain a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major reporting agencies after placing the alert.
If you have actually been the victim of identity theft, you can also file for an extended fraud alert to be placed on your credit report. You will be eligible for one only if you filed a report with the FTC at identitytheft.gov and/or if you filed a police report.
4. Monitor your credit
Keeping tabs on your credit report will quickly alert you to whether someone is misusing your Social Security number to open new credit accounts in your name. Typically, you can obtain one free copy per year from each of the major credit reporting agencies at www.annualcreditreport.com. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the credit reporting agencies have been offering weekly online credit reports.
After you have obtained a copy of your report, you should look carefully to see whether there is anything suspicious on it. This could include inquiries (requests for your credit information) from companies you never contacted, as well as records of credit accounts you didn't open; unexplained charges on your cards; or judgments or other legal actions against you that you weren't aware of.
5. Request a new card
You can request a replacement Social Security card if you have lost yours or if it has been stolen. You can complete the request online or in person and your card will be mailed to you. The Social Security website to request a replacement card is ssa.gov/ssnumber.
You will need to provide proof of citizenship, such as a passport, as well as a birth certificate or other proof of your birth such as a hospital record. Proof of identity is also required, such as a driver's license or passport.
Parents can also apply for a new Social Security card for a child who hasn't yet been assigned a Social Security number. They can apply at the hospital after the birth of the baby or at a Social Security office. Parents will need to provide proof of citizenship, such as birth certificates, as well as other proof of eligibility such as doctor records; school or day care records; or adoption decrees.
How to protect your Social Security card
Losing your Social Security card can be a big hassle, especially if it leads to identity theft.
Fortunately, there are easy ways to protect your Social Security card including the following:
Create a My Social Security account
You can open a my Social Security account to help ensure that no one opens an account in your name and obtains your information. Your Social Security account will also allow you to track your earnings record so you can make certain no one is using your Social Security card to work.
Keep your card in a safe place
Keeping your card in a safe at your home, in a safe deposit box at the bank, or in another secure location could also reduce the risk of loss or theft. You should avoid carrying your Social Security card in your purse or wallet unless there is a specific need for you to have the card with you, such as providing the information to an employer after you are hired for a job.
Don't overshare your Social Security number
Avoid providing access to your Social Security card or number unless you really need to, and don't ever provide this information unless you are confident you can trust the person or company you are showing this information to. Always ask why you are being required to provide your information and what will happen if you refuse to do so.
Block access to your Social Security record
You can request that the Social Security Administration block electronic access to your Social Security record if you know that your information has been compromised. To do this, you'll need to call 800-772-1213. Once you have blocked access, no one can change your personal information online or via phone — including you.
Consider identity theft protection
Identity theft protection services can help you to fight identity theft by monitoring your credit and alerting you of anything suspicious. Many identity protection services will also help you to deal with the theft of your identity should the worst occur.
Can you put a freeze on your Social Security number?
You cannot put a freeze on a Social Security number. You can block access to your Social Security record, which would prevent you or others from making changes to your personal information online or via phone. Contact 800-772-1213 to do this.
You are also able to freeze your credit, which means no one will be able to access your credit report so no one will likely be able to apply for credit in your name. You can do this by contacting Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, which are the three major credit reporting agencies.
What is a Social Security number?
Social Security numbers were originally created in 1936 to track how much money workers in the U.S. made so they could receive the appropriate amount of Social Security benefits.
Because Social Security numbers are universal and almost every legal U.S. resident has one, this unique identifying number is now used for many purposes including reporting income taxes, applying for bank accounts, applying for government benefits, and applying for credit.
How do you check to see if someone is using your Social Security number?
You can use your my Social Security account to confirm your personal information and check your earnings record. You can also keep tabs on whether your number is being misused to apply for new credit by monitoring your credit reports.
You can obtain reports for free from www.annualcreditreport.com. Normally, you get one report per year from each of the major credit reporting agencies, but the agencies are offering one free report per week during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you want to reduce your risk of identity theft, keep your Social Security card and other personally identifiable information secure. The above tips for protecting your card could help, and you can also learn more about how to prevent identity theft online to minimize the chances of thieves and fraudsters stealing your personal information and using it in a way that hurts you.