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What to do if someone steals your Social Security number

What to do if someone has your Social Security number

If you’re a United States citizen or permanent resident, you have a Social Security number (SSN). This number is the linchpin of much of your existence, linked to everything from your tax records to your credit cards. Theft is a massive problem, which is why we’ll show you what to do if someone illegally gets access to your SSN.

What can someone do with your Social Security number?

If an attacker gets access to your Social Security number, they can impersonate you, especially if they also know your name, date of birth, or, worse yet, both. The damage an identity thief can do with this information is potentially limitless if you don’t catch it in time. Using this information, a diligent attacker could:

  • Open up a new bank account and associated credit cards under your name.
  • Get access to your current bank accounts and empty them.
  • Have the phone company reroute your phone number to them.
  • Access governmental information about you (address, dependents, criminal records) and use it against you.

This list is by no means exhaustive, thanks to the diabolical inventiveness of identity thieves. Your SSN is a central part of your identity in the United States, and if an attacker gets a hold of it, there’s almost no limit to the damage they can do.

If your credit score takes a sudden dive, unexplained charges show up on your bank cards, or other strange events take place, there’s a chance your SSN has been stolen. So what can you do?

What to do if someone steals your Social Security number

If you suspect that your Social Security number has been stolen, the first thing you should do is report it to the authorities. The Social Security Administration has a full checklist(new window), but the short version is that you should contact:  

Reporting it to these agencies should take care of the law enforcement angle. However, it’s just as important to make sure the big credit bureaus — Equifax(new window), Experian(new window), and Transunion(new window) — know about your situation and freeze your credit. You may also want to check your credit score and contact your bank to let it know about your situation.

You could also consider signing up for an identity protection service that will handle monitoring and any subsequent steps for you for a monthly fee. Though not always cheap, it may be worth it, particularly if you’re worried about identity theft.

How to protect your Social Security number

Naturally, preventing identity theft is even better. Though ensuring it will never happen to you is impossible, there are some ways that you can minimize the risk of having your SSN stolen. First, never have your Social Security card on you unless absolutely necessary. It’s too much of a risk. Instead, keep it in a safe or somewhere secure in your home.

Also, never enter your Social Security number anywhere unless it’s absolutely necessary. Similarly, don’t leave your SSN exposed in any form. If you wrote your SSN on a form you didn’t turn in, a Post-It as a reminder, or anywhere else that’s not being submitted for official use, make sure you shred it before throwing it out. 

Technology can also help keep your Social Security number safe. For example, you can scan any papers you have and transfer the files to cloud storage. That way, in case you haven’t memorized your SSN, you can securely access it without needing to write it down or carry your card.

However, considering how sensitive your SSN is, you need to make sure your cloud storage service is secure. Many providers, for example, will decrypt your files during the process of transferring your files. This makes them vulnerable to attack.

How Proton helps with SSN protection

This is where Proton Drive comes in, our free cloud storage service. Like all Proton products, it uses end-to-end encryption, meaning your files are always encrypted during the storage process. This prevents anybody, including us, from seeing what you’re storing. Even in the unlikely event of a data breach, attackers would only get access to your encrypted files.

If you ever need to share sensitive information, we offer multiple ways to do so securely. You  can  protect file-sharing links with a password, set expiration dates, or shut them down with a single click — more details can be found in this sharing guide

If you need quick access to your Social Security number — easy to forget, with all the other numbers you need to remember — you can always access it on your smartphone using the Proton Drive app. You could also save it as a secure note in Proton Pass, our state-of-the-art password manager.

We can offer all this functionality for free because we’re entirely funded by you, our community. While our competitors must find new ways to harvest your information to sell ads and generate revenue, we can focus on developing features that serve your needs and protect your privacy.

If keeping your SSN secure and accessible sounds good to you, sign up today. You’ll receive 5 GB of storage for free.

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