How much do you think about the security of your Social Security number? All of your life, you’ve been told to keep it secret and safe. However, it’s often requested during life’s everyday moments, such as when you visit the doctor, open a bank account, or start a new job.
Data Safety Is in Question
This can be problematic, especially since data breaches are commonplace; it seems like one is always in the news these days. While the government hasn’t indicated the total number of Social Security numbers subject to theft or fraud, a 2015 NPR interview, with data from Verizon, reveals that 60-80% of numbers have already been accessed by hackers. These stats are even more frightening when you consider that the government doesn’t like to replace numbers; in 2014, they issued fewer than 250 new Social Security numbers due to misuse.
Given that incidents of fraud continue to rise, it may not be realistic to rely on the government to fix the problem. The administration has gone so far as to suggest that it may be time to retire these archaic forms of identification. In fact, The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently announced that new Medicare cards would be mailed out this year with a new number printed on them. This unique identifier will replace patients’ Social Security numbers on their cards, helping ensure that seniors are less vulnerable to identity theft and benefits abuse.
The Government Has Doubts, Too
But White House cybersecurity coordinator, Rob Joyce, wants to take it one step further and do away with the numbers altogether. Given how devastating the recent Equifax breach could become, it’s crucial for the government to have a more agile approach to responding to wide-spread cyber-attacks where the most sensitive of personal data can be stolen. (The Equifax breach incident exposed the Social Security numbers of 143 million Americans, none of whom have a remedy to obtain a new number.) Other significant breaches have occurred at major health insurers, hospital networks, and even the U.S. Postal System.
So, what can consumers do when the agency who hands out these numbers and even requires them for many of your day-to-day activities admits they are problematic? Unfortunately, it’s wise to recognize the dangers and take matters into your own hands. While we can’t do much against substantial data breaches, there are a few recommended steps you can take to do your part in securing your Social Security info.
1. Don’t Give Out Your Number
It sounds simple, but there are many occasions you may be asked for your Social Security info. The problem is that you are rarely obligated to comply. Except for your job, financial institutions, the IRS, and other government programs, no one should require you to give it out. You may have to really push back, but you can even tell your healthcare provider “no” if you wish. (Considering that many breaches have involved medical records, it’s not a bad idea to shut them down when they ask.)
2. Run Your Credit Report Annually
While you can’t always tell if someone has your Social Security number, many of the red flags can be spotted on your free annual credit report from all three agencies. If someone has inquired about your credit using your number and without your permission, this will show. You can also quickly check for suspicious new lines of credit. You are entitled to a free credit report each year from all three agencies, although you can pay for more frequent credit monitoring and identity protection from companies like Credit Karma or LifeLock.
3. Take Advantage of Free Monitoring
With millions of consumers affected by breaches each year, it’s become standard practice for hacked companies to offer free credit monitoring and fraud detection as a courtesy to those involved. Don’t hesitate to sign up for these services and use them.
Since most people don’t realize that their number has been stolen until something terrible happens, be sure to speak up if you believe you are a target. While the government won’t likely give you a new number, it can usually offer you a workaround in instances where it affects your daily financial life. Many taxpayers, for example, only learn of a compromised number when they file their return. Getting it straightened out with the IRS may take a while, but you can start matters without delay. Providing proof of any communications or suspicious activity can help move your case along and give you the time you need to work issues out.
PLEASE NOTE: The information being provided is strictly as a courtesy. When you link to any of these web-sites provided here, you are leaving this site. Our company makes no representation as to the completeness or accuracy of information provided at these sites. Nor is the company liable for any direct or indirect technical or system issues or any consequences arising out of your access to or your use of third-party technologies, sites, information and programs made available through this site.
This information is not intended to be legal or tax advice. The author can provide information, but not advice related to social security benefits. Clients should seek guidance from the Social Security Administration regarding their particular situation. Social Security benefit payout rates can and will change at the sole discretion of the Social Security Administration. For more information, please consult a local Social Security Administration office, or visit www.ssa.gov.