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How To Protect Your Social Security Number From Scammers

Do you know if scammers have your SSN? Learn how to protect your Social Security number and safeguard yourself against identity theft.

Illustration of a Social Security card with a lock in the middle

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      Is Your SSN Safe From Scammers?

      When Jennifer Sheils looked at her teenage son’s credit report, the last thing she expected to see were wages paid from a job on the other side of the state. But after a few quick calls, the truth emerged — someone had stolen her son’s Social Security number (SSN) and was using it for illegal employment [*].

      Your SSN is the key that unlocks your identity — making it one of the most attractive targets for identity thieves. With your SSN, scammers can file fraudulent tax returns, take out loans and lines of credit, or even work — all under your name

      Unfortunately, many cybersecurity experts believe that nearly every SSN has been compromised at some point [*].

      In 2023, it’s not enough to hope that scammers don’t have access to your SSN — you need to proactively protect it from being used by fraudsters. 

      In this guide, we’ll cover how to tell if someone is using your SSN, what you can do, and how to protect your SSN from being used in the future.

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      How To Check If Someone Is Using Your SSN

      What makes Social Security number theft so dangerous is that you often won’t know it has happened until it’s too late. For example, if a scammer uses your SSN to take out a personal loan in your name, you likely won’t find out until debt collectors come looking for payment. 

      Worse, even if you do everything you can to protect your SSN, it can still be leaked in a data breach or stolen in other ways by hackers.

      The good news is that early warning signs can help you check if someone is using your SSN. Here are a few ways to check if someone is using your SSN:

      • Your credit score suddenly drops, or you’re turned down for credit. If scammers have used your SSN to take out loans or open new accounts, it can dramatically impact your credit score.
      • You receive notices from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that you didn’t request. If you receive tax transcripts or information about a job that you don’t recognize, it could mean your SSN was used for illegal employment. The IRS may also contact you with a 5071C letter if it suspects you’ve been the victim of ID theft.
      • You start to receive mail in someone else’s name. If a fraudster uses your SSN to open financial accounts, you could end up receiving mail with someone else’s name on it.
      • You receive a notification that your SSN was leaked in a data breach. If you’re signed up for Dark Web monitoring, you’ll be alerted if your SSN was leaked in a data breach.
      • There are accounts on your credit report that you don’t recognize. If someone uses your SSN to apply for a credit card or loan, your credit report is one of the first places where this activity will appear. Actively watch for accounts you don’t recognize or credit applications you never submitted.
      • There are unexplained charges on your credit card or bank account statements. This is a clear sign that someone has access to your accounts. If you see charges that you don’t recognize, contact your bank immediately.
      • You receive phone calls from debt collectors. You have the right to ask debt collectors to stop calling. However, if they are calling about a debt that was opened fraudulently using your SSN, it may be useful to ask for more information about the debt.
      🛡 Secure your identity with award-winning protection. If scammers gain access to your SSN, they could empty your bank account or steal your identity. Try Aura’s top-rated identity theft protection solution free for 14 days and keep yourself and your family safe from scammers.

      How To Protect Your Social Security Number

      Social Security numbers are highly valuable pieces of information that can be gold mines for identity thieves. Even worse, it’s very difficult to change your Social Security Number — even if someone steals it. 

      Here are some of the ways that you can protect your SSN from scammers:

      1. Use alternative identifiers or IDs instead of your SSN
      2. Sign up for an SSN monitoring service
      3. Lock your SSN by using the SSA’s "Self Lock" 
      4. Claim your my Social Security online accounts
      5. Freeze your credit with all three bureaus
      6. Keep your Social Security card in a secure place
      7. Shred mail and documents that contain sensitive information
      8. Don’t enter your SSN when using public Wi-Fi
      9. Never give out your SSN over the phone or via email

      1. Use alternative identifiers or IDs instead of your SSN

      There are specific instances in which someone might ask for your SSN — such as when applying for a job, opening a bank account, or filing taxes. But the more people and organizations that have your SSN, the more likely it could get leaked or stolen in a data breach.

      Instead of giving out your SSN freely, you should:

      • Ask why any company or organization needs your SSN
      • Provide an alternate form of identification, such as your driver’s license
      • Ask the organization to provide proof of its data protection policy

      The bottom line: You can’t control how other companies will protect your SSN. Leave it off forms whenever possible and supply a different, less valuable piece of ID.

      2. Sign up for an SSN monitoring service

      An SSN monitoring service can help alert you if your SSN appears somewhere it shouldn’t be — such as in public records, the Dark Web, or online. The sooner you know that your SSN has been compromised, the faster you’ll be able to shut down the scammers who are trying to use it. 

      For example, Aura’s award-winning identity theft protection solution monitors your SSN (and hundreds of other pieces of sensitive information) and alerts you in near real-time if your data is found.

      With Aura, you also get 24/7 U.S.-based support from a team of White Glove Fraud Resolution Specialists who can advise you on what to do, and help you navigate contact with any impacted company, government agency, or lender. Try Aura free for 14 days and get the help you need when dealing with fraud and scams.

      3. Lock your SSN by using the SSA’s “Self Lock” 

      The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers a service called “Self Lock” that helps prevent scammers from using your SSN to gain illegal employment. 

      When you “lock” your SSN, employers won’t be able to use E-Verify to check if you’re eligible to be hired. However, this doesn’t prevent your SSN from being used for other purposes (such as taking out loans). 

      Here’s what to do: 

      • Go to myE-Verify and create an account. Once you’re finished, myE-Verify will email you a link to start the application. 
      • Next, you’ll be asked to prove your identity by taking a short quiz.
      • Once you pass, you’ll land in your myE-Verify dashboard. 
      • Scroll down, and click on Manage my SSN
      • Then, click on Lock My SSN
      • Set your Self Lock challenge questions, then click on Lock My SSN.
      • To unlock your SSN: Navigate back to Manage my SSN and select Unlock my SSN.

      4. Claim your my Social Security online accounts for yourself and your kids

      Another way to protect your Social Security number is to create a my Social Security account at www.ssa.gov. 

      There can only be one my Social Security account per Social Security number, which means if you can’t sign up, someone has already done so in your name. If this is the case, you’ll need to reach out to the SSA and inform them of the fraud. 

      In addition to being a way to check if someone is using your SSN, a my Social Security account lets you perform several key tasks, including:

      • Apply for Social Security benefits
      • Check the status of a Social Security application (and see if fraudulent ones have been made in your name)
      • Estimate future benefits
      • Request a replacement Social Security card

      If you have children, you can create a my Social Security account in their names early on to prevent child identity theft.

      5. Freeze your credit with all three bureaus

      A credit freeze prevents anyone from accessing your credit file (until you unfreeze or thaw it). This means that scammers won’t be able to use your stolen SSN to take out loans, open new accounts, or apply for lines of credit. 

      A credit freeze is free, and it won’t affect your credit score in any way. 

      To freeze your credit, you need to contact each of the three credit bureaus individually (Experian, Equifax, TransUnion), prove your identity, and then set up a PIN to freeze (and later thaw) your account. 

      Here’s how to contact each of the three credit bureaus:

      Experian
      Equifax
      TransUnion
      1-888-397-3742
      1-800-685-1111
      1-888-909-8872
      Experian Security Freeze — P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013
      Equifax Information Services LLC — P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta, GA 30348-5788
      TransUnion LLC – P.O. Box 2000, Chester, PA 19016

      6. Keep your Social Security card in a safe place

      Don’t keep your Social Security card in your wallet or purse unless you know you’re going to need it. Instead, store your card at home in a secure (and preferably lockable) place, such as in a safe.

      If you are out and someone steals your purse or wallet with your Social Security card in it, there can be dire consequences. Also avoid saving an image of your card on your phone, laptop, or other devices, as these can also be stolen or otherwise compromised.

      💡 Related: Stolen or Missing Social Security Card? Here’s What To Do!

      7. Shred mail and documents containing sensitive information

      Identity thieves often search your garbage or steal mail in hopes of finding sensitive information that they can use. 

      If you have mail that includes your SSN (or even just parts of it), you need to shred and dispose of it properly. This includes:

      • Bank and credit card statements
      • Medical documents
      • Bills and invoices
      • Pay stubs
      • Pre-approved credit card offers

      However, this list is not exhaustive. Any document addressed to you may contain sensitive or financial information. When discarding documents, use a shredder or other equipment to destroy the documents first. Also, consider opting for electronic bills, medical records, and statements to avoid printing sensitive information.

      8. Don’t enter your SSN when using public Wi-Fi

      Public Wi-Fi networks often lack adequate security, which may allow thieves to steal your information while on the network. 

      Take these steps when using public Wi-Fi:

      • Avoid entering your SSN while connected to these networks.
      • Use a virtual private network (VPN) while connected to public Wi-Fi. This will encrypt your connection and make it more secure.
      • Use a password manager so that you don’t have to type in your passwords.
      • Only use websites with secure connections. This is usually indicated by “https://” at the start of the URL. Your web browser might also display a lock icon in the address bar.

      9. Never give out your SSN over the phone or via email

      Giving out your SSN on the phone or via email is risky, as you don’t know for sure with whom you’re sharing it. Even worse, when you’re in public places, scammers may shoulder surf and spy on you as you enter your SSN on sites or forms. 

      Here are some safety tips to consider whenever someone asks for your SSN:

      • Government agencies won’t call and ask for your SSN. If someone calls you claiming to be from the IRS or another agency and asks for your sensitive information, hang up and call the agency back by using the official phone number listed on its website. 
      • Banks won’t ask you to “confirm” your SSN or other sensitive information. Beware of texts, calls, or emails claiming to be from your bank that ask you to confirm sensitive data. Your bank won’t ask for your SSN, PIN, passwords, or two-factor authentication (2FA) codes. 

      Only give out your SSN when absolutely necessary. If you have any doubt, hang up and contact the company or agency directly to make sure you’re talking to someone legitimate.

      💡 Related: How Does Social Security Number Theft Happen?

      Is Someone Using Your SSN? Do This

      Did you accidentally give your SSN to scammers? If you believe someone is using your SSN, there are several steps you can take to protect yourself: 

      1. Review your credit report. You can get a free credit report from all three bureaus at AnnualCreditReport.com. Review it and look for signs of unusual or suspicious activity, such as unfamiliar accounts, strange inquiries, or incorrect personal information. 
      2. Freeze your credit with all three bureaus. Contact each of the major credit bureaus and freeze your credit to limit the damage scammers can do.
      3. Report the crime to the FTC. If you think you are the victim of identity theft, file a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at IdentityTheft.gov. An official FTC report will help you dispute fraudulent charges and debts, and will also provide you with a personalized plan to help guide you through the process of recovering from fraud.
      4. File a police report. Contact your local law enforcement agency and let them know what happened. While not all police departments have the resources to handle identity theft cases, having the report on file may help when dealing with creditors and debt collectors.
      5. Contact the SSA. Although the Social Security Administration doesn’t typically monitor the fraudulent use of SSNs in new financial account applications, the SSA needs to know if someone is using your SSN to work illegally. In extreme cases, you may be given a new SSN. 
      6. Contact the IRS. You should contact the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), especially if someone is using your SSN for employment or tax purposes. 
      7. Dispute transactions, and close fraudulent accounts. If you find any account numbers that you don’t recognize on your credit report, close those accounts as soon as possible. You can also dispute transactions with the financial institutions that own the accounts.

      Pro tip: Remember to regularly monitor your credit, even if you don’t think anyone is using it fraudulently. This will help you catch problems before they snowball, and also help minimize the damage scammers may cause.

      Beware of These Current SSN Scams 

      Unfortunately, due to your SSN’s value to scammers, they’re always looking for new ways to trick you into giving it up. 

      To stay safe, it’s important to know the latest SSN scams that fraudsters are using. Here’s a few schemes to watch out for:

      • Data breaches at companies that store your SSN. You could be at risk if you’ve given your SSN to a company that gets hacked. A Dark Web monitoring service can warn you if your SSN was leaked in a breach and is now for sale on the Dark Web.
      • Phishing emails and fake websites. These scams often involve someone pretending to be an official from the SSA or another trusted company or organization. There might be a link to a fake SSA website designed to trick you into entering your SSN and other personal information.
      • Scammers who impersonate government officials over the phone. Scammers might call you saying that your SSN has been suspended due to suspicious activity, and ask you to “confirm” your number.
      • Stolen mail or sensitive documents. Mail can often contain sensitive information. Scammers might try to steal your mail to gain access to your credit.
      • Robocalls. You might receive an automated call purporting to be from the SSA, claiming that your SSN has been suspended. You may be asked to call a number to resolve the issue; the person who answers the call will then try to steal your information.
      • Employment scams. Someone might use your SSN to get a job or submit fraudulent unemployment claims.
      • Benefits scams. Fraudsters might use your SSN to apply for government benefits, which they have no intention of repaying.

      Remember: The SSA will not call you asking for your SSN or for money, nor will it suspend your SSN. If you receive calls of this nature, hang up immediately and call the SSA for more information.

      The Bottom Line: Keep Your SSN Safe From Scammers

      Social Security numbers are valuable pieces of information that scammers can use to open new credit accounts in your name, apply for benefits, or work illegally. 

      Because your SSN can be so lucrative for identity thieves, it is vital to protect yourself. You can do this in many ways, including giving out alternate IDs or claiming your my Social Security account — but for additional protection and peace of mind, you should consider signing up for Aura.

      With Aura, you get three-bureau credit monitoring with the industry’s fastest fraud alerts, award-winning SSN and identity monitoring, powerful digital security tools, plus U.S-based 24/7 support and $1 million in insurance coverage for eligible losses due to identity theft. 

      Keep your SSN safe from scammers & identity thieves. Try Aura free for 14 days.

      Award-winning identity theft protection with AI-powered digital security tools, 24/7 White Glove support, and more. Try Aura for free.

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