How to Lock Your Social Security Number
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- If your Social Security number has been compromised, you may be able to block some access to your personal information with a Social Security number lock.
- Locking your Social Security number prevents anyone — including you — from changing or accessing your Social Security record.
- If your Social Security number is compromised and you’re already the victim of identity theft, act quickly to safeguard your personal information.
Your Social Security number (SSN) is one of the most important pieces of financial information in your life. It helps you file taxes, receive income from your job, open credit accounts, qualify for retirement benefits and identify yourself to the government.
It’s important to protect your SSN to the best of your ability — but that’s not always possible. This is where something called a Social Security number lock may come in handy.
When should you lock your Social Security number?
If your Social Security information has been compromised, you may be able to use an SSN lock to prevent some access to your personal information.
Unfortunately, you may not know that someone has stolen your SSN until it’s too late. For example, you may have been the victim of a phishing attack. Phishing is a kind of email, texting or phone scam that tricks you into providing personal information by sending you communications that appear to come from a legitimate, trusted source.
Be on the lookout for the following suspicious activity that may indicate identity theft:
- Incorrect information on your credit reports
- Unexplained withdrawals in your checking or savings accounts
- Bills for credit cards you haven’t applied for
- Collections calls for debt you don’t owe
- Missing mail
- Discrepancies in your tax returns or Social Security benefit statements
What happens during a Social Security number lock?
If you suspect that your SSN has fallen into the wrong hands, take action to make it more difficult for your Social Security information to be shared or seen by a stranger.
First, you can contact the Social Security Administration by phone at 800-772-1213 and request to block electronic access to your Social Security information. This process prevents anyone — including you — from changing or accessing your Social Security record. You can remove this block down the road as long as you provide proof of identity as required by the Social Security Administration.
You can also place what’s known as a self-lock on your SSN through E-Verify® at www.e-verify.gov, a government service that employers use to confirm a job applicant’s eligibility to work.
When a criminal steals your SSN, they may attempt to obtain employment in your name in a type of fraud known as employment identity theft. In this scenario, the wages a thief earns are falsely reported to the Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and other government agencies in your name.
Placing a self-lock through E-Verify stops anyone from using your SSN to apply for a job — but that also includes you. You can temporarily unlock your SSN if you know a new employer will need to confirm your eligibility for employment.
What else can you do if your SSN has been stolen?
If identity thieves have your Social Security number, they may be able to apply for credit in your name including new auto loans, credit cards, student loans and personal loans. Fraudulent lines of credit can hurt your finances and sink your credit scores, and the process to reverse the damage can be long and complicated.
The good news is you can help better protect against credit fraud with a security freeze (also known as a credit freeze), which stops creditors from accessing your credit reports to open new credit accounts. So, if an identity thief tries to apply for a new credit card in your name, the credit card issuer won't be able to see your credit reports, leading them to deny the application.
Security freezes are free, have no effect on your credit scores and can be lifted and replaced at any time. If you choose to place a freeze on your credit reports, you’ll have to file separately with each of the three nationwide consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) — Equifax®, TransUnion® and Experian®. You can place a security freeze on your Equifax credit report online by creating a myEquifax account. Once the security freeze is in place, you'll be able to verify its status through your myEquifax account.
What to do if your Social Security number is compromised
If your Social Security number is compromised and know you’re already the victim of identity theft, act quickly to take the following steps:
- Visit IdentityTheft.gov. The most important thing to do is report instances of identity theft to the U.S. government online at IdentityTheft.gov or by calling 877-IDTHEFT (877-438-4338). They’ll walk you through a personalized recovery plan to help you mitigate and reverse any financial and legal damage. They can even fill out forms and write letters on your behalf. The first thing they’ll do is help you file a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which will allow you to correct or remove false financial activity from your credit reports.
- Notify the IRS and the Social Security Administration. Contacting the IRS online at www.irs.gov/uac/Identity-Protection or by phone at 800-908-4490 can help you avoid employment fraud and prevent someone else from accessing your tax refund. Contact the Social Security Administration at www.ssa.gov for help getting a new Social Security card and to determine whether you need a new SSN.
- Place a security freeze on your credit reports and lock your Social Security number. There are measures you can take to help prevent further unauthorized use of your SSN and other personal information. You can lock your SSN by calling the Social Security Administration or by creating an E-Verify account. Also, you can contact all three of the nationwide CRAs to place a freeze on your credit reports.
- Contact companies where you know fraud occurred and file a dispute with the nationwide CRAs to correct any fraudulent activity. Once you have a paper copy of your identity theft report from the FTC, use it to correct any criminal activity, including closing accounts that were opened in your name, freezing credit accounts with charges you didn’t make and filing a dispute with the CRA that reported the information.
Remember, the fallout from identity theft won’t disappear overnight. The best way to protect your SSN is by taking preventative security measures now.