Is Your Social Security Number Safe?

News Flash: Social Security Numbers Exposed

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Identity theft and fraud affect millions of people each year — costing the economy over $60 billion dollars annually.1 And a lot of those fraud dollars are lost because Social Security numbers fall into the wrong hands.

Since your Social Security number adds up to "solid gold real estate" for opportunistic identity thieves everywhere, it's a good idea to learn all you can about identity theft fraud protection. Why? Because even if you take steps to safeguard your identity, simple mistakes and clerical errors can quickly result in Social Security fraud. And that's the kind of identity theft story that has become much too common lately.

News flash: Over 250,000 random Social Security numbers exposed

In January 2008, a simple error by a private mailing house created real panic for more than 260,000 shocked mail recipients. The error — the second of its kind in the last year — occurred when the Social Security numbers of over a quarter-million Medicaid and SeniorCare members were mistakenly printed on the outside of mailing envelopes.

It could have been worse. Sources say the mailings, which were sent out on behalf of a Wisconsin state health agency by Plano, TX-based Electronic Data Systems (EDS), were originally scheduled to be sent to nearly half a million Wisconsin residents. Apparently EDS caught the mistake and stopped the mailings before the others were put into circulation.2

The point? Your Social Security number can be easily exposed — even if you're taking precautions to safeguard your identity against fraud. The kinds of errors like those that affected those 260,000 Wisconsin residents are the type that state and government agencies dread and identity thieves can only dream about. Social Security fraud is a very real threat: If anyone else gets your Social Security number, then anyone else can pretend to be you.

How can you avoid becoming part of a future identity theft story?

There are no guarantees that your identity won't be stolen. The crime itself seems to have few prejudices and plays no favorites, so everyone may be at risk. But identity theft monitoring services can provide you with a powerful ally against identity theft.

For example, Privacy Matters offers an identity theft report, a comprehensive document that details your personal and financial history. Similar to a credit report, the identity theft report can help you determine if your identity has been compromised. Cross-referenced for accuracy between hundreds of databases and billions of individual records, it's a great complement to the following identity prevention safeguarding tips you can do on your own:

  • Closely guard all personal information and account numbers. Don't, for example, EVER share your Social Security number on a phone call (or through an e-mail) that you didn't initiate.
  • Use a paper shredding machine. It's not enough to throw out old paperwork anymore; that "junk mail" could contain sensitive personal information, including your Social Security number.
  • Be smart. Look for weaknesses in where your personal information is stored. Skilled ID thieves just need a small opening to steal your identity.

Preventing identity theft fraud takes a combined effort — handy extras like identity fraud monitoring and your own common sense, not to mention a little luck in not having your information leaked by outside parties.

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