How To Protect Your Social Security Number In United States

Modern thefts are now centered on intangibles, and the one intangible property no one would ever wish to lose is one’s identity, especially when it is linked with financial and social security benefits. Protecting the Social Security Number therefore becomes an important security measure of all and sundry. Here are some tips to keep your Social Security Number safe and secure.
How to Protect Your Social Security Number in United States
Source - Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APD_social_security_card.png)

Once upon a time, all that thieves wanted to steal from a household was gold, silver and money. The fraudsters too would target people to dupe them of their money. However, today, when social security has become an important asset in many countries, it is also being targeted by theft and fraud, necessitating a need to be alert about identity theft and its consequences.

The Menace of Identity Theft in United States

Identity theft resulting from unauthorized access to Social Security Number (SSN) has come to acquire menacing proportions in the United States, affecting over five hundred thousand people annually. Usually, the

fact that their identity has been stolen comes to the notice of the victims several months after the same has been misused and the damage has been done. In the worst case scenario, it can lead to one being faced with allegations of a crime, or large pending debts, which generally come as a big shock to the unsuspecting victim, and can lead to a lot of anxiety, pain and anguish in addition to the loss of significant time and energy in defending one’s innocence. There is enough reason, then, to ensure that your Social Security number is protected.

Identity Theft & Social Security Number

The nine digit Social security number is the most commonly used identifier, as well as the most commonly used number for indexing records of individuals. Because of its uniqueness and its universal availability, SSN is highly preferred by all kind of service providers, as it helps them maintain their own records more easily.

Unfortunately, widespread availability of Social Security numbers is the primary facilitator in the misuse of those Social Security numbers for the purpose of identity theft by unscrupulous elements. Because these numbers are widely available, so defrauders get a chance of using them without any real probability of being traced. The only way they can be prevented from misusing your identity is by preventing them access to your Social Security card number.

One major problem with Social Security number based identifying systems is that there is neither any system of cross verification, nor is there any biometric identifier used along with them to prevent frauds based on stolen SSNs.

Laws to Protect the Social Security Number

The need for being careful while sharing your Social Security number cannot be over emphasized. In fact, the Privacy Act has included provisions that discourage the use of SSNs where alternate identifiers can be used. Section 7 of the Privacy Act states, "It shall be unlawful for any Federal, State or local government agency to deny to any individual any right, benefit, or privilege provided by law because of such individual's refusal to disclose his social security account number." [Sec. 7(a)(1)]

However, this provision has some exemptions. Though it applies beyond federal agencies, it neither applies to any disclosure required by federal statute nor to any federal, state, or local agency maintaining a system of records in existence and operating before January 1, 1975 by a legal sanction in existence prior to that date.[Sec. 7(a)(2)(A)-(B)] In addition, the Tax Reform Act of 1976 exempts state agencies from this restriction to the extent that social security numbers are

used "in the administration of any tax, general public assistance, driver's license, or motor vehicle registration law within its jurisdiction."

California Civil Code requires credit grantors to match three identifiers on the credit application to the report held at the credit reporting agency for the purpose of granting credit. Other government agencies have also been trying to reduce the use of SSNs. The IRS offers alternatives to SSNs in the form of Preparer Tax Identification Number that the Tax Preparers can acquire to include on their client’s tax return.

What You Should Do To Protect Your Social Security Number

The only way to protect your SSN is by reducing its disclosure to situations it is absolutely mandatory. Certain basic precautions can help.

  1. Do not carry your SSN card unless essential. However, it is better to remember the number.

  2. Do not share the details of your SSN unless it is mandated by the law. Thus, the first question that should be asked each and every time anyone asks for your SSN, is that whether its disclosure on your part is mandatory or voluntary. In case of voluntary sharing, you must be very careful regarding the possibility of its misuse.

  3. For commercial transactions, avoid providing SSNs.

  4. Do not share your SSN on internet. It is particularly important to remember that neither Social Security Administration office nor the IRS are ever likely to ask for your SSN on internet. Hence if any e-mail asks you to provide your SSN for any purpose, you need to get alerted. There have been cases where fraudulent mails refer you to some web site that resembles SSA. However, you can also be sure that SSA will never ask you to share the SSN.

  5. Try to use identifiers other than SSN, whenever it is so possible. Because of the Privacy Act, most commercial entities cannot insist on use of SSN as an identifier, nor can they discriminate against you for not providing them your SSN. If any entity violates these laws, bring it to the notice of the authorities like Social Security Administration.

  6. Since it is a problem that can afflict everybody or anybody, the wise thing to do will be not to wait till you yourself get affected. Instead, try to do your bit wherever possible to reduce the use of SSNs as general identifiers, and help in plugging the loop-holes that are responsible for such frauds.

If you follow all these precautions, along with use of simple common sense, while being always conscious of the possibility of misuse of social security numbers and possible identity thefts through their misuse, it should be possible to keep your SSN secure.



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