How To Protect Your Social Security Number (SSN)
There are various ways to protect your Social Security number (SSN) both online and in real life. For example, don’t carry your card with you to prevent it from being lost or stolen; thoroughly destroy any documents containing your SSN before discarding them; and only give your SSN to trusted parties.
- Written by Lindsey Crossmier
Lindsey Crossmier is an accomplished writer with experience working for The Florida Review and Bookstar PR. As a financial writer, she covers Medicare, life insurance and dental insurance topics for RetireGuide. Research-based data drives her work.Read More
- Edited ByLamia Chowdhury
Lamia Chowdhury is a financial content editor for RetireGuide and has over three years of marketing experience in the finance industry. She has written copy for both digital and print pieces ranging from blogs, radio scripts and search ads to billboards, brochures, mailers and more.Read More
- Reviewed ByBrandon Renfro, Ph.D., CFP®, RICP®, EA
Brandon Renfro, Ph.D., CFP®, RICP®, EA
Retirement and Social Security Expert
Brandon Renfro is a Retirement and Social Security Expert and financial planner. He focuses on helping clients create a secure financial future in retirement and co-owns Belonging Wealth Management. He is also a former finance professor and writes for several publications.Read More
- Published: March 3, 2023
- Updated: June 7, 2023
- 6 min read time
- This page features 7 Cited Research Articles
- Edited By
- Your Social Security number is an important piece of identity information, and it should be used carefully.
- Thieves can use your SSN to unlock more ID information about you, access your money and commit fraud.
- Be aware of phishers and spoofers trying to extract your SSN.
- Employers, financial institutions and landlords often require your SSN. If other people or organizations want it, ask them why and how they plan to use it.
- If you suspect your SSN has been stolen, report it immediately.
Know When To Provide Your SSN to Someone
Discovering that your Social Security number has been leaked, lost or stolen can be incredibly stressful. But there are ways to protect your SSN, especially by knowing when and to whom you should share it with.
For example, your employer and your financial institution will request your SSN for tax purposes. It’s also reasonable for a potential landlord to ask for you SSN. Outside those situations, however, you have the right to question why someone needs your SSN and to refuse to share it if you’re not comfortable with the answers.
Common Scams That Ask for Your SSN
Identity thieves use a wide range of methods to trick people into sharing personal information like SSNs, online and in real life.
- A fraudulent practice that involves mimicking a trusted source, such as your bank or the IRS. Typically, scammers will alter a telephone number or email address slightly to trick recipients into thinking it’s an official source.
- A fraudulent practice that uses spoofing techniques to get you to send personal information or click a link that allows phishers access to your personal information.
- A fraudulent practice that involves spoofing and phishing over SMS messages.
No reputable organization will ask you to send personal information in a pop-up window. Report any suspected scams to the Social Security Administration.
Don’t Provide Your SSN to a Stranger
Your SSN is a powerful piece of identification. Beyond accepting new employment, starting an account at a financial institution or possibly entering a contract with a landlord, there is no reason to provide a stranger with your SSN.
Identity theft is the whole suite of crimes that involve deceptively obtaining personal identity information. With your SSN, a thief can commit a range of further crimes, such as getting and using credit cards, applying for loans and withdrawing from your Social Security account. The consequences of these crimes can take a great deal of time and effort to untangle and may even can affect your credit rating.
Ask How Your SSN Will Be Used
Always ask how your SSN will be used. In the case of jobs and bank accounts, your SSN is used for tax purposes. When pressed to provide your SSN in other circumstances, ask why it is needed and what it will be used for. In addition, ask about the consequences if you don’t share your SSN. Most importantly, don’t hesitate to refuse access to your SSN if you have any concerns.
Don’t Share Your SSN Through Email or Text
Regardless of whom an email or text seems to originate from, do not share your SSN online or through SMS text messages. Not only can emails and texts be malicious phishing attempts, but they can also be a hacking strategy. Once your SSN gets revealed online, it’s nearly impossible to remove.
Offer Different Types of Identification
Depending on the situation, you may be able to offer other types of identification instead. However, be aware that your birth certificate, driver’s license and passport are also valuable identification documents and should not be widely shared.
Don’t Carry Your Social Security Card
Unless you’re planning an activity that requires your SSN, such as applying for a mortgage, don’t carry your Social Security card with you. Instead, store it securely, so you’re unlikely to lose it by accident or in an instance of pickpocketing.
Destroy Documents with Your SSN Listed
If you receive documents containing your SSN, such as tax or bank documents, thoroughly shred or destroy them before disposing of them. Make sure your SSN is completely unreadable. Thieves have been known to comb through mail to search for important ID information.
Never Use Your SSN as a Password
It might be tempting to use your SSN as a password but consider the consequences if someone finds out what it is. Should someone crack your password, they’ll end up with your SSN, as well as entry into whatever account it was protecting.
Monitor Your Accounts To Identify Fraud
The best way to know if your information is being used for identity fraud is to keep a careful eye on your accounts. Regularly check your bank and credit card statements, so you’ll know if either account is being used to make purchases.
Lock Your SSN If You See Suspicious Activity
If you notice suspicious or unusual activity, you can lock your SSN to prevent further leakage. The Social Security Administration recommends the following.
- Call the Social Security Administration Directly
- Call their toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213 to block all electronic access. No one will be able to use your SSN to open accounts, apply for jobs or commit tax fraud from that point on. However, you yourself will not be able to see or change your SSN information either. Should you need to access it later, you can request the SSA to unblock your SSN after they confirm your identity.
- Self-Lock Through E-Verify
- You can also self-lock your SSN through E-Verify, a service provided by the Department of Homeland Security that allows employers to check an applicant’s eligibility.
How Identity Protection Services Can Help
Identity protection companies can provide prevention and/or recovery services. They protect devices, monitor your credit rating, offer insurance and provide family plans. U.S. News recently compiled a list of the top companies that provide protection against identity theft.
FAQs About SSN Protection
7 Cited Research Articles
- Frankel, R.S. and Lupini, C. (2023, January 10). Best Identity Theft Protection Services of February 2023. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/advisor/personal-finance/best-identity-theft-protection-services/
- IRS. (2022, April 20). Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft. Retrieved from https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/taxpayer-guide-to-identity-theft
- US Department of Justice. (2020, November 16) What Are Identity Theft and Identity Fraud? Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/criminal-fraud/identity-theft/identity-theft-and-identity-fraud
- FBI. (n.d.). Spoofing and Phishing. Retrieved from https://www.fbi.gov/how-we-can-help-you/safety-resources/scams-and-safety/common-scams-and-crimes/spoofing-and-phishing
- SSA. (n.d.). Office of the Inspector General: SSA Scam Reporting Form. Retrieved from https://secure.ssa.gov/ipff/home
- E-Verify.gov. (n.d.) What is E-Verify. Retrieved from https://www.e-verify.gov/about-e-verify/what-is-e-verify
- IdentityTheft.gov. (n.d.) Report Identity Theft and Get a Recovery Plan. Retrieved from https://www.identitytheft.gov/#/