You might be shocked to know that when Social Security numbers were first given in the 1930s, the intention was never to use them as a form of identification. However, most of us use our Social Security numbers all of the time, from doing transactions at the bank to visiting our doctor’s office.
You need your SSN to apply for jobs, to open credit cards, and even to marry the love of your life. Since we use this number of often, what happens if you lose your card, it gets stolen or it’s leaked in a big data breach? Here’s what to do:
Contact the 3 Credit Bureaus – The first thing you should do is to contact one of the three major credit monitoring bureaus. You have to put a fraud alert on your credit report. By doing this, a lender or creditor uses much stricter guidelines when they receive an application for credit. These alerts only last for 90 days, but you can also get an extension when that 90 days passes. But there’s better:
Freeze Your Credit – Another step that is even more secure is to freeze your credit. When this happens, you can’t use your credit to open a line of credit or refinance until you go through a simple “thaw” or unfreeze process. Keep your credit frozen for the remainder of your life and thaw when needed.
Get Identity Theft Protection – Also, consider getting identity theft protection. This might be a bit of an investment for some people, but it also ensures that someone is monitoring your credit all day, every day. These experts can also quickly get you back on track if your identity is stolen.
Watch Your Credit – If 90 days has passed, and you don’t see anything strange on your credit report, that doesn’t mean that you are safe. Thieves can use your information in other ways, too, so you should continue to watch your credit report. You can get a free credit report each year at AnnualCreditReport.com
Use Caution When Online – Finally, make sure that you are being careful when browsing the internet. Cybercriminals are sneaky, and people fall for their tricks quite often. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Don’t click on any link you get in an email. This is the case even if you believe that it’s from someone you know. Unless you’ve just signed up for a website and you need to confirm your email address.
- Don’t open any email that is in the spam folder.
- Don’t open any email that has a subject line that is exaggerated or sensational.
- If you can use two-factor authentication with your online accounts, you should.
- Use an antivirus program, anti-malware software, and a firewall.
- Create a different password for each account. Make sure they are difficult to remember and stay away from those containing your name, date of birth, or even 123456.
- Use a password manager.
- Shred your personal documents before throwing them in the garbage. This is especially important if the document contains information like your SSN or an account number.
- Don’t give your SSN out to anyone unless it is totally necessary, such as on a job application or when applying for a loan or credit card.
I give out my SSN all the time. But, I omit it from applications often. And if the applications administrator says “we can’t process your request without the SSN”, I may briefly question them, but inevitably give them my SSN. I have a credit freeze and identity theft protection. I’m not worried.
Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video.