How Do You Change Your Social Security Number?
Your Social Security number (SSN) is unique and one of the few things that should stay the same for your entire life. But that’s not always the case.
Your SSN is a golden ticket for identity thieves. With your numbers, a scammer can max out your credit, steal your medical benefits, or even illegally obtain employment in your name. Even worse, stolen Social Security numbers are available to hackers on the Dark Web for as little as $2 [*].
Unfortunately, getting a new SSN isn’t always a possibility. And if it is, there are still hoops to jump through in order to get your new number.
In this guide, we'll cover everything you need to know about when, why, and how to change your SSN.
How Criminals Steal Your Social Security Number
Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America.
In 2021 alone, nearly six million Americans were the victims of fraud, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
The problem is that scammers are masters at hiding their crimes. They want to be able to use your Social Security number for as long as possible before you catch on. But first, they have to steal it.
So how do criminals steal your Social Security number? Here are the most common ways:
- A lost or stolen wallet. Criminals look for your physical card or number in your wallet after they steal it (or you misplace it).
- Data breaches. Millions of Social Security numbers have been exposed in data breaches and are available to hackers on the Dark Web.
- Mail fraud. Scammers will often look through your garbage for documents containing your SSN. Or, they might commit a change-of-address scam and get a replacement card mailed directly to them.
- Phishing calls, emails, and texts. Fraudsters will contact you pretending to be from a government agency like the IRS or FBI and pressure you to “confirm” your SSN.
- Employment scams. Scammers often post fake job listings to sites like LinkedIn and ask for your SSN as part of the application process.
- Hacking unsecured websites. Some websites are easily hacked, allowing scammers to see any sensitive information you’ve submitted on forms.
- Buying your information from “inside” sources. Thieves will bribe employees for information that you submit on an application for financing or store credit cards.
- Criminals guess your child’s SSN. In 2011, the SSA switched to using randomized SSNs, which means that scammers can sometimes get lucky and guess a legitimate number. This is especially dangerous for child identity theft.
So, how do you know if someone’s using your SSN without your permission?
How To Know if Someone Is Using Your SSN
There are so many ways for criminals to get access to your SSN that there’s no wonder identity theft goes unnoticed for so long. Even if you’ve lost your wallet, you might not remember that your SSN card was inside.
Here’s what to do right now to check if someone is using your SSN:
1. Look for the warning signs of identity theft
Identity theft is the most common reason why a thief wants your SSN. If they have access to your number, they’ll be able to run all sorts of scams in your name.
- Unfamiliar charges on your credit card or bank statement.
- New loans or credit cards in your name.
- A drastic change in your credit score.
- Calls from debt collectors you don’t recognize.
- Unfamiliar medical bills or sudden loss of benefits.
- Missing or inaccurate tax refunds.
- There’s a warrant out for your arrest.
2. Check your Social Security Statement for suspicious activity
Your Social Security Statement shows all jobs and earnings that are associated with your number. To check yours, go to www.ssa.gov/myaccount. Look for jobs you don’t recognize, reported earnings you didn’t get, or any other suspicious activity.
3. Regularly review your credit report for strange loans and inquiries
Criminals will often misuse your SSN to apply for credit or take out loans in your name. Regularly check your credit reports for signs of financial fraud. Everyone is entitled to one free credit report a year from all three major credit bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com.
4. Check to see if someone has taken out benefits in your name
Thieves will also use your SSN to commit medical identity theft and use up your medical benefits. Or, they might take advantage of unemployment scams to get fraudulent government support. Look for signs of both of these scams by checking with your benefits providers.
5. Sign up for SSN Monitoring
Checking that your SSN isn’t being misused is a lot of work. But an identity theft protection service can do most of the work for you.
For example, Aura monitors your SSN, bank accounts, credit report, and other pieces of sensitive information for signs of fraud. If we find anything suspicious, we’ll alert you in near real-time and help you take steps to stop or mitigate fraud.
Are You Eligible for a New Social Security Number?
Unfortunately, just because someone has stolen or is using your SSN, doesn’t always mean you can get a new one.
The SSA is cautious about changing your number as it can cause complications with your credit report and earnings history, and even make it more difficult to apply for passports, loans, and IDs.
The five situations where you can apply for a new SSN include:
- Ongoing financial and identity fraud due to identity theft. Unfortunately, just being the victim of any of the types of identity theft isn’t enough. You need to be able to prove that you’re dealing with ongoing fraud and have exhausted all other options. For example, if a family member is continually using your identity to open new credit cards and lines of credit.
- Threat of personal harm, such as from harassment, stalking, or domestic violence. If someone is using your SSN to track where you work and live and wants to do you harm, you can change it. Again, you’ll need to show proof of your situation like police reports.
- Religious or cultural objections to the numbers. If a sequence of numbers in your SSN goes against your core beliefs, you may be able to request a change.
- Someone else already has your SSN. In rare cases, the SSA might accidentally assign the same SSN to multiple people.
- Issues with sequential numbers assigned to the same family. The SSA will also consider a change if you and another family member share similar names and SSNs and it’s causing issues with your legal status or tax records.
How To Change Your SSN After ID Theft (or Any Reason)
1. Make sure you fall under one of the five eligible situations
The most common reasons why you’ll want to get a new SSN are identity theft and personal danger.
These (and the other cases listed above) are the only situations in which the SSA will consider giving you a new number. You cannot get a new Social Security number if your card is lost but there’s no evidence that someone is using it, if you’re trying to avoid the law or creditors, or to avoid the consequences of filing for bankruptcy.
If you lose your Social Security card and don't believe anyone is using it, you should request a replacement card with your old number.
2. Gather your evidence and documentation
The SSA treats each case individually. Based on your situations, make sure you have the appropriate documents listed below. For example, if you’re applying due to identity theft, you’ll need your FTC identity theft affidavit and proof of ongoing financial fraud.
3. Contact your local Social Security office to get the appropriate forms
Use the SSA office locator to find your closest office. Contact them and explain the situation. They’ll most likely tell you to fill out a Form SS-5, which is an application for a new Social Security number. You may also be able to find the documents you need by logging into your my Social Security account.
4. Collect primary documents that prove your identity
To prevent identity theft, the SSA requires at least two original documents that prove who you are. This includes proof of both citizenship (such as a U.S. birth certificate or passport) and identity (such as a U.S. driver’s license, or state-issued non-driver ID card). You may also need evidence of immigration status or if you’ve legally changed your name.
5. Submit your application to the Social Security Administration
Contact your local office again and tell them you have everything you need to submit the request. They should explain what your next steps are and what to expect.
If you’ve been the victim of identity theft, you’ll also want to follow these steps to secure your identity from fraud:
- Report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission at IdentityTheft.gov or by calling 877-438-4338. The FTC will help you recover your identity and guide you through the next steps.
- File a police report for identity theft with local law enforcement. If you’re covered by identity theft insurance, a police report will most likely be required to submit a claim.
- If you think someone has taken employment or filed a fraudulent tax return using your SSN, visit the Internal Revenue Service's Identity Theft Central webpage or call 1-800-908-4490.
- Notify your bank and credit card company. Even if a criminal hasn’t committed financial fraud against you, your bank should cancel and reissue your debit or credit cards.
- Call the fraud department at any impacted company. If a criminal took
- Set up a credit freeze to prevent further fraud.
- Protect your online accounts. Secure your online identity by updating your passwords to be more secure and storing them in a password manager. Whenever possible, also enable two-factor authentication (2FA) using an authenticator app like Google or Okta.
Were you the victim of fraud? Follow our fraud victim's checklist for step-by-step instructions on how to recover from fraud.
Everything Else You Need To Know Before Applying
The application process is only the beginning of your journey towards getting a new Social Security number.
Here's everything else you should be aware of before applying:
Can you apply for a new Social Security number online?
Unfortunately, the SSA doesn’t allow you to change your SSN online. Even more frustrating is that their local offices are no longer accepting in-person appointments due to the pandemic.
So where do you go to apply for a new SSN?
Your best option is to use the Social Security Office Locator to find the address and phone number for the SSA office location closest to you. Call them and explain your situation. They should be able to help guide you through the next steps of your application.
What evidence do you need to provide when applying for a new SSN?
When you go to change your SSN, bring along:
- A filled-out Form SS-5. This is the same form that you, your parents, or your legal guardians likely filled out to apply for your original number and Social Security card.
- A credible statement and supporting third-party documentation that explains why you need a new number:
- In the case of abuse or harassment: Acceptable documents include medical records of injuries, court orders, divorce decrees, police reports, and other related legal documents. You may also want to attach letters from shelters, counselors, friends, or family members with direct knowledge of the situation.
- In the case of identity theft: Provide proof of identity and evidence that your number is being used for fraudulent transactions. You’ll also need to show that you are suffering ongoing harm as a result. For example, a lowered credit rating or loan denial. Finally, you'll need proof that you've exhausted all other means to solve the problem.
- For religious or cultural objections: Get written documentation from the group explaining the issue and showing your relationship to them.
- Documentation of your U.S. citizenship, U.S. birth certificate, or legal residency, age, identity, and current SSN. The SSA has a document checklist you can follow. You'll also need to provide supporting documentation if you have undergone a legal name change. In fact, if you are getting a new name, make sure to do that first.
For your records, make photocopies of everything you submit. If you are providing a certified copy of a document, make an extra copy for yourself and keep it separate from the original.
Do you need to pay for a new SSN?
No. Getting a new SSN, whether you are applying for an original number or a replacement Social Security card, is free. The SSA does not charge you anything and provides you with all the information you need to apply.
Beware of any company or website offering to help you apply for a new SSN. These sites are often scams that will charge you for free services or could even steal your sensitive information.
How long will it take to receive a new Social Security card?
If the SSA has all the information it needs, you could receive your new Social Security card in as little as one week, depending on your situation. Here’s the typical timeline you should expect when applying for a new card or SSN:
- When requesting a replacement Social Security card: 7 – 10 business days.
- When applying to change your Social Security number: Within two weeks.
- If the SSA needs to verify your legal status: Noncitizens who can legally work in the United States can get a SSN. Unfortunately, there’s no specified timeline for situations where a government agency needs to verify your files relating to immigration documents, immigration status, U.S. citizen status, or your certificate of naturalization.
What happens to your old SSN after you get a new one?
Your old SSN doesn’t disappear if you’re given a new one. Instead, the SSA connects the two while keeping your old number on file with agencies like the DMV and IRS.
Unfortunately, this means you'll have to inform anyone who uses your SSN of the change. This includes banks, credit card and reporting companies, schools, and even employers. There's a lot of logistical hurdles to changing your SSN. And there's also no guarantee that a credit reporting agency will wipe your slate clean (even if you were the victim of fraud).
Changing your SSN can also make your life more complicated. It can be harder to get a passport, receive financial aid, and build your credit history. Some lenders may not want to grant you credit or loans due to an absence of credit history. You may have to explain your situation over the phone and in writing for years after the change.
Can’t apply for a new SSN? Freeze or block your SSN instead
Before changing your SSN, you may want to consider a freeze or a block. Both options are less drastic alternatives that may be better suited to your specific situation.
Freezing your Social Security number prevents lenders from running credit checks or opening a new account using your information. To set up an SSN freeze, you need to:
- Create an E-Verify account, managed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
- Follow the prompts to freeze your SSN by entering your number and date of birth.
- Answer the three challenge questions.
The convenient thing about freezing your SSN is that you can keep it frozen and only unfreeze it when you want to open a new account or start a new job. Freezing and unfreezing your number is free.
Blocking your Social Security number prevents anyone, including yourself, from accessing your Social Security information online or by phone (until you lift the block).
If your number isn’t active, harassers, fraudsters, and identity thieves can't use it either. Neither can banks, credit card companies, or employers — something you may want to keep in mind if you're making financial decisions or applying for a new job.
The Bottom Line: Protect Your Social Security Number
While there are clear benefits to changing your social security number, it’s often seen as a last resort for extreme situations.
Once you change your SSN — or to protect your current one — you should follow these five steps to ensure it’s not being misused by criminals or identity thieves.
- Don’t give out your SSN automatically. Many businesses ask for your SSN, but few actually need it. Try giving a different identification card instead. For example, your driver's license, student ID, U.S. passport, health insurance card, or even utility bill. If they insist, ask why they want it and how they will protect it.
- Don't carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse. Memorize the number and leave it at home. Don't input your SSN into your smartphone, laptop, or other devices. Don't use your SSN as your password and don't send it to anyone via an email or message.
- Destroy original documents, copies, and mail with personal details once you no longer need them. You should also avoid leaving mail in your mailbox for extended periods. If you’re going to be away, ask someone to pick up your mail or consider a mail-forwarding service.
- Never provide your SSN to someone you don’t know. This is especially important for anyone who requests it over the phone or on the internet. The same applies to your family members' SSNs. Don't give any SSN to anyone unless you are certain they have a valid reason to have it and a right to ask.
- Use credit and identity monitoring to keep track of your most important documents and accounts. Track your bank and credit card balances regularly. Ideally, sign up for a credit monitoring service that will automatically alert you of any potential fraud.
For ultimate security, consider signing yourself or your family up for Aura.
With Aura, you’ll be alerted in near real-time if anyone is using your SSN without your permission or of any suspicious activity on your credit file or bank account. And if the worst happens, you’re covered by a $1,000,000 insurance policy for eligible losses due to identity theft.