Losing your Social Security card can make you uneasy, and for good reason. Your Social Security number is vital for everything from getting a job to accessing credit. If the wrong person gets ahold of your card, it could lead to identity theft and serious financial damage.
The good news? By taking quick action, you can minimize risks and protect yourself if your card goes missing.
In this detailed guide, I‘ll walk you through exactly why your Social Security card matters, what identity thieves can do with it, and the steps to take if yours is lost or stolen. I‘ll also provide extra tips to keep your identity secure and monitor for suspicious activity.
Let‘s dive in so you can safeguard yourself against Social Security number identity theft.
Why Your Social Security Card Matters
First, let‘s talk about why Social Security cards are so important in the United States.
The Social Security Administration issues every legal U.S. resident a unique nine-digit Social Security number (SSN). This serves as your lifelong identification number for things like:
- Employment paperwork like W-2 and 1099 tax forms
- Opening financial accounts
- Building your credit history
- Collecting Social Security benefits
- Applying for loans and credit cards
- Getting a driver‘s license and U.S. passport
Your SSN distinguishes you from every other citizen and lawful resident. It‘s your key to interacting with institutions and accessing services.
This makes your Social Security card incredibly valuable. It provides convenient access to your SSN, which opens the door for others to steal your identity.
In 2021 alone, identity theft impacted nearly 15 million Americans. Of those victims, over 1.5 million had their Social Security number compromised according to an Identity Theft Resource Center report.
Having your Social Security card fall into the wrong hands puts you at serious risk. Keep reading to understand exactly how identity thieves can exploit your SSN along with the steps to take if your card is lost or stolen.
How Identity Thieves Use Your Social Security Number
Identity thieves are eager to get their hands on Social Security numbers. Here are some of the ways they can misuse your SSN:
Open new credit cards and loans
With your SSN, identity thieves have access to your entire credit profile. They can open fraudulent new credit cards or take out payday loans under your name. On average, it takes 3-6 months to spot this type of SSN misuse.
Access existing accounts
Criminals may attempt to log in to your current financial accounts using your SSN and other personal info. Or they could change account details like your mailing address to steal funds or sensitive information.
File fake tax returns
Filing taxes under your SSN allows thieves to collect huge refunds in your name. About 66,000 fake returns using stolen SSNs were confirmed in 2020 according to the IRS. The average refund collected was $4,283 per return.
Claim government benefits
Your Social Security number enables access to Medicaid, unemployment benefits, tax credits and other government services. Scammers can file for benefits under your SSN and collect payouts for themselves.
Get medical care or prescription drugs
Identity thieves use victims‘ SSNs and insurance cards to obtain expensive medical services and prescription medications. This can impact your health coverage limits and benefits.
Some identity thieves actually commit crimes under the victim‘s SSN. This creates a criminal record under the innocent person‘s name that can be difficult to remove.
Assume your identity
With your SSN and other personal details, clever identity thieves can take over your whole identity. They may change your mailing address, alter government records, get a driver‘s license, and even impersonate you. This type of identity theft can take months to unravel.
As you can see, Social Security number theft opens the door for fraudsters to exploit your identity in many ways. That‘s why it‘s so important to act immediately if your Social Security card is lost.
Long-Term Impacts of Social Security Number Theft
The consequences of Social Security number theft can linger for years even after you spot the initial fraud. Here are some potential long-term effects to be aware of:
- Lower credit score: Fraudulent accounts and unpaid debts opened under your SSN drag down your credit. This makes it harder to get approved for future credit or loans.
- Legal troubles: Criminal charges or civil judgments accrued under your name could haunt your record indefinitely.
- Loss of benefits: If thieves claim your Social Security benefits, you may no longer qualify when you actually need them.
- Higher insurance costs: Stolen SSNs drive up risk of future fraud. Insurers may raise your rates or drop coverage due to this risk.
- Ongoing monitoring: Even after resolving known issues, you must vigilantly monitor your credit and identity for years to catch recurring fraud.
- Tax headaches: Fake tax returns lead to issues with the IRS that may take months of work to fix.
Battling Social Security number theft can be a severe headache taking substantial time and effort to overcome. That‘s why taking preventative steps upfront is so critical.
5 Steps to Take if Your Social Security Card is Lost
If you lose your Social Security card, stay calm but act quickly. Here are the steps experts recommend:
1. File a Police Report
Contact your local police department to file a report about your missing card. Provide details on when you last saw your card and the circumstances under which it went missing.
"Having the report on file creates a paper trail in case your identity is compromised," explains Axton Betz-Hamilton, identity theft expert and professor at Eastern Illinois University.
2. Notify the Social Security Administration
The SSA needs to know if your card is lost or stolen. You can call their national toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213 to report your missing card.
You‘ll also need to apply for a replacement Social Security card by visiting your local SSA office or submitting an application online. New cards typically arrive within two weeks.
3. Place an Initial Fraud Alert
Ask one of the three major credit bureaus to place a 90-day initial fraud alert on your credit file. This requires creditors to verify your identity before approving new accounts. It also entitles you to a free credit report from each bureau.
Equifax, Experian and TransUnion all offer fraud alert placement online or by phone. Make sure to check your reports closely for any unfamiliar activity.
4. Consider a Credit Freeze
For stronger protection, you can freeze your credit files which blocks access to your credit reports. This makes it much tougher for identity thieves to open new fraudulent accounts.
Freezes can be placed for free, but note you must lift them temporarily when applying for your own new credit or accounts.
5. Monitor Your Accounts Closely
Keep an eagle eye on your financial accounts and credit reports for suspicious transactions. Enroll in fraud alerts and monitoring with your bank and credit card company.
Check your credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com every few months too. Watch for any credit checks, accounts, or charges you don‘t recognize and report them ASAP.
Table Comparing Identity Protection Services
For added security, you may want to sign up for identity theft protection through companies like LifeLock or IdentityForce. Here‘s an overview of key identity protection providers:
|Service||Credit Monitoring||Identity Theft Insurance||Dark Web Monitoring||Cost*|
|LifeLock||Unlimited Equifax credit reports||Up to $1 million||Scans for compromised credentials||$8.99/mo and up|
|IdentityForce||Reports from TransUnion, Experian, Equifax||Up to $1 million||Monitors chat rooms, websites, more||$17.99/mo and up|
|IDShield||Daily monitoring and alerts||Up to $1 million||Checks black market sites weekly||$6.95/mo and up|
|Identity Guard||3-bureau credit monitoring||Up to $1 million||Scans for exposed personal data||$6.99/mo and up|
*Pricing varies based on plan and features selected.
These services help detect and resolve identity theft by monitoring your credit, SSN, accounts, and online presence for signs of misuse. The right service provides peace of mind if your Social Security card is lost.
What to Do If You Spot Suspicious Activity
If you notice any fraudulent charges, accounts, or credit inquiries on your reports, take immediate action:
- Report fraud to the FTC: File an identity theft report through IdentityTheft.gov to make a record of the fraud.
- Contact creditors and banks: Speak to the fraud department and submit copies of your ID theft report and affidavit. Have fraudulent accounts removed.
- Place an extended fraud alert: Ask credit bureaus to place a 7-year extended alert if your SSN was misused.
- Dispute fraudulent info on credit reports: Use the dispute process to have inaccurate info associated with identity theft removed from your credit file.
The key is to act quickly to minimize damage when you spot any signs of abuse of your Social Security number. Ongoing monitoring of your credit and accounts makes this possible.
Tips to Keep Your Identity Secure
In addition to monitoring your credit and SSN records, here are important tips to reduce your risk of identity theft:
- Avoid carrying your Social Security card in your wallet or purse except when absolutely necessary. Leave it locked securely at home otherwise.
- Don‘t share your SSN until required and verify who you‘re giving it to. Ask if you can provide other identification instead.
- Use online Social Security accounts to monitor your records and earnings history closely for inaccuracies.
- Shred documents with personal identifying info before disposal. Thieves dig through trash and recycling bins looking for SSNs and account details.
- Destroy old Social Security cards completely by cutting up the card before tossing it. This prevents anyone from obtaining the numbers if rummaging through your garbage.
- Watch out for phishing scams by text, email, and phone that try to trick you into sharing your SSN or other sensitive data.
Caution is the best policy when it comes to protecting personal information like your SSN from falling into the wrong hands. Following these tips helps minimize risks.
Frequently Asked Questions
Still have questions about what to do if you lose your Social Security card? Here are answers to some common queries:
Can you get a new Social Security number if your card is lost?
In most cases, no. The SSA will not change your existing number if your card is lost or stolen. You simply need to apply for a replacement card. New SSNs are only issued under rare, extreme circumstances of ongoing identity theft issues.
Will a new Social Security card have the same number?
Yes, your replacement Social Security card will have the exact same 9-digit SSN. This number is tied to your records and does not change except in very limited cases.
How long does it take to get a new Social Security card?
It typically takes around two weeks to receive a replacement card in the mail after submitting your application. You may be able to get a new card in as few as 5 days if you have an urgent, verified need for it like starting a new job.
Can a stolen Social Security number be traced?
Unfortunately, it is difficult to trace how or where a stolen SSN is being used. The SSA does not track this information. However, monitoring your credit reports gives visibility into whether your SSN is being misused to open accounts or access credit.
Losing your Social Security card can certainly cause stress. However, you can take steps to mitigate risks if it happens to you. File a report, apply for a new card, place a fraud alert, freeze your credit, and monitor closely for any signs of misuse.
With vigilance and quick action, you can protect your identity and avoid serious long-term issues. Don‘t panic if you lose your card, just be sure to respond promptly and take precautions.