How To Prevent and Avoid Social Security Number Fraud and Identity Theft
Your Social Security Number: An ID Thief's Dream
Social Security fraud has rapidly become one of the more popular means by which cyber-thieves and online con artists set out to swipe your identity — and perhaps turn your world upside down in the process. In short, your Social Security information is an identity thief's dream. With your Social Security number in hand, an opportunistic hacker or other online criminal can do just about anything — create phony bank accounts using your name; charge unlimited amounts of goods and services to credit accounts you never meant to open; steal your identity and recreate it multiple times and in multiple locations. In other words, if the wrong person gets hold of your Social Security number, there could be an unlimited number of people out there masquerading as "the real you."
What can you do to guard against Social Security fraud?
One of the best things you can do to avoid problems with Social Security fraud is to take your Social Security card out of your wallet or purse IMMEDIATELY. Because your Social Security number is one of the primary targets for any identity thief, it is in your best interests to avoid a lost or stolen Social Security card at all costs.
In time, you'll probably be able to remember the number, but when you are first issued an official Social Security card, consider storing it in a safe place — separate from your other pieces of identification. If, for example, you lose your wallet or someone steals it, anyone — especially a savvy identity thief — can not only steal your identity but can also make duplicates of your driver's license and credit cards, and turn those and other pieces of your personal information into ill-gained profit.
Remember, your Social Security number is the key to who you are — at least on paper and in any computer database. Social Security identity theft isn't a new crime, but it is one that could leave you drowning in red tape while you scramble to try to get your life back.
What are some other ways to prevent identity theft and avoid Social Security fraud?
Being a victim of Social Security fraud — indeed, any form of identity theft — is tough financially and emotionally. Knowing that there is someone out there pretending to be you can be both worrisome and downright infuriating. To avoid such uncomfortable scenarios, you can consider taking any or all of the following steps:
If you suspect that you have become a victim of identity theft, you can implement what is known as a credit freeze, which basically prevents anyone from viewing your credit report for an indefinite period — up to seven years, by law. A security freeze can help prevent identity theft. Most creditors and businesses will not open credit accounts without first checking your credit history. If your credit files are frozen, even someone who has your name and Social Security number won't be able to get credit in your name. Not all U.S. states allow credit freezes, however, so you'll want to check the specific rules for the state in which you live.
Consider learning more about credit monitoring. Credit monitoring can be as valuable to you as any identity theft prevention tool because it alerts you to any changes in your credit report. And although it is less well-known than its credit counterpart, Privacy Matters also offers identity theft monitoring and an identity theft report.
Try to use common sense when protecting your Social Security information — and any personal information, for that matter. Some 27 million people have become identity theft victims in the past five years alone for good reason; computer hackers, cyber-thieves — even dumpster divers don't have the look of criminals — mostly because you cannot see them coming. Some will anonymously skulk around areas where they know people tend to be careless with computer passwords — like Internet cafes and coffee shops that offer free Wi-Fi access — and try to steal your personal information, literally right out from under you. Others will post fake websites and the like, inviting you to join clubs, get free travel vouchers or open up credit accounts with zero-percent finance charges — asking only for your Social Security information in return.
Bottom line, if someone asks you for your Social Security number online, do not even consider giving it to them. If the source asking for your Social Security information isn't one you know or trust, it could be an identity thief trying to make his dreams come true — using your Social Security number as the key to pulling off another act of Social Security fraud.