Safeguarding your Social Security number is one of the best identity protection steps that you can take. Unfortunately, even the most careful individuals fall victim to identity thieves. According to the team at the Insurance Information Institute, there were nearly 5 million cases of identity theft in 2020. Discovering that your Social Security number may be exposed is overwhelming, but there are a few steps you must take immediately to freeze your SSN and protect yourself.
Reasons for Freezing a Social Security Number
The main reason for freezing Social Security numbers is if you suspect that it has been jeopardized. This can be through a security breach at an institution that stores private information, losing your wallet with your Social Security card inside or even by a thief rifling through papers in the trash.
Freezing your Social Security number prevents lenders from running credit checks, which in turn prevents anyone from opening a new account using your information. Opening new accounts and reaching the maximum spending limit is one of the main reasons why criminals want Social Security numbers in the first place.
When you freeze your Social Security number, it makes it essentially useless to these lawbreakers. It can prevent unimaginable damage to your credit score and a lot of stress later on.
Freezing Your Social Security Number
If you suspect your identity has been endangered, you must take action. One of the first things to do is freeze your Social Security number, according to the writers at E-Verify.
First, you’ll need to create an account on E-Verify, which is managed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Once you do, follow the prompts to freeze your SSN. Then, file a police report. Immediately after freezing, contact the authorities. Having the report filed protects you from further harm and opens an investigation.
Next, you’ll want to contact the three credit bureaus to report your SSN as stolen. These are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Once you have taken these three crucial steps, monitor activity on all accounts closely and follow up with any investigations. You may also consider hiring a private agency to help undo any damage and restore normal activity. You can keep your SNN frozen, and some people do out of an abundance of caution. It’s free to freeze and then unfreeze the number when you want to open a new account.
Tips for the Best Identity Protection
The best solution for a stolen identity is to prevent it from happening to you in the first place. You should always monitor your credit closely. You can accomplish this by enrolling in a service that alerts you to any changes or activity associated with your Social Security number.
In addition, check all of your current accounts frequently for suspicious activity. Be very cautious when releasing your Social Security number; never give it out over the phone or email unless you initiated the contact with a known entity. Be skeptical of requests for your information. Many people become victims of identity theft after falling for a scam.
Be suspicious of anyone contacting you, even if they say they’re from a company you trust. In addition, be careful to shred all your mail containing account information or other personal data. Check your mailbox, and be sure to shred all credit offers. Whatever you do, always safeguard all personal information, and take action as soon as you suspect that something is wrong.
- Always send your written letter certified mail. This ensures the credit bureaus not only receive your request to freeze a social security number, but also that your information doesn't fall into the hands of an identity thief.
- Always use a secure network. When applying for a security freeze online, make sure your network is secure before entering your information. Just look for the lock at the top or the bottom of your computer screen.
- Never attempt to have someone else place a credit freeze for you. The credit bureaus require that you complete the request yourself.
Danielle Smyth is a writer and content marketer from upstate New York. She holds a Master of Science in Publishing from Pace University. Her experience includes years of work in the insurance, workers compensation, disability, and background investigation fields. She has written on legal topics for a number of other clients. She owns her own content marketing agency, <a href="https://www.wordsmythcontent.com/">Wordsmyth Creative Content Marketing</a>, and enjoys writing legal articles and blogs for clients in related industries.