10 tips to help protect your SSN
Authored by a Symantec employee
If you want to help protect yourself against identity theft, knowing how to protect your Social Security number is a good start.
Your Social Security number, or SSN, is a key piece of personally identifiable information. In the wrong hands — like, in the hands of an identity thief — your SSN might lead to all sorts of identity theft and fraud.
Like what? Here’s a sample.
- Opening bank or credit card accounts
- Filing tax returns
- Making purchases — all in your name
The Equifax data breach in 2017 may have exposed the Social Security numbers of more than 145 million Americans. It’s a good idea to find out what you can still do about the data breach.
It’s smart to know how to protect your SSN. Less exposure of this vital number could potentially mean fewer opportunities for thieves to steal your identity.
Quick tip: It’s important to protect your full Social Security number — all nine digits. But it’s also important to protect the last four digits, since many financial firms and others sometimes use those four numbers to identify you.
Here are 10 tips to help protect your SSN.
Tip 1: Memorize your Social Security number
Knowing your Social Security number by heart can be handy. It’s there when you need it. Plus, you probably won’t be tempted to carry your Social Security card with you or to jot down the number on a slip of paper.
Tip 2: Keep your card and number in a safe place
Anything as important as your Social Security card deserves a home. This could be a lock box or a file folder kept in a secure place. And don’t forget, your SSN may appear on important documents. They require a safe place, too.
Tip 3: Leave home without it
There may be times when you need to show your card to someone. But, in general, it’s a good idea to avoid carrying your card or any documents that display your SSN. It’s possible you might lose your wallet or leave your documents behind.
Tip 4: Rarely share your number
You may have to provide your Social Security number to your bank or employer. But there’s no reason your pizza delivery guy needs it. If someone asks for your Social Security number, ask questions. Why? How will it be used? What if I refuse to share it? You may be able to offer an alternative form of identification, such as a driver’s license number, student ID, or utility bill.
Tip 5: Beware of phone and email scams
Identity thieves may try to trick you into revealing your SSN. For instance, in a phone or email, they might pose as your employer or a government office requesting information. Avoid sharing your number unless you’re positive it’s a legitimate request. Better yet, consider calling the requesting organization at a verifiable telephone number to provide the information. Or visit in person.
Tip 6: Create strong passwords
Strong passwords that use a unique combination of numbers, letters, and symbols can help prevent identity thieves from accessing your personal information in online accounts. Here’s one password you should never use: your Social Security number. And don’t use your SSN’s last four digits as a PIN.
Tip 7: Shred documents
It’s smart to shred all documents that contain your SSN or other personally identifiable information before tossing them in the trash. The risk? Thieves could steal those documents from your garbage can or retrieve them at a landfill.
Tip 8: Monitor your accounts
If someone misuses your SSN, you may find evidence of foul play in your bank, credit, or other accounts. Consider setting up alerts with your financial institutions to flag unusual activities. Watch for changes in your credit score. A lot of places may give you your credit score for free. And check your credit reports. It’s easy to get them for free. By law, you’re entitled to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com.
Tip 9: Consider an identity theft protection service
Protecting your Social Security number doesn’t have to be a do-it-yourself affair. An identity theft protection service can help. For instance, it may be able to alert you if your SSN has been found on the dark web. The cost of an identity theft protection service typically ranges from $10 to $30 per month.
Tip 10: Be careful sharing through electronic devices
There are risks in sharing your Social Security number by email, text, voicemail, and fax. For example, your SSN could get intercepted and read after you send your information. There are sometimes ways to help keep your information safe — for instance, by using a VPN on an unprotected Wi-Fi network. But the safest way to share may be face to face with someone you know and trust.
Your Social Security number is a big responsibility. You may not be able to control whether it’s exposed in a data breach. But there’s still plenty you can do to help keep it safe.
Symantec Corporation, the world’s leading cyber security company, allows organizations, governments, and people to secure their most important data wherever it lives. More than 50 million people and families rely on Symantec’s Norton and LifeLock comprehensive digital safety platform to help protect their personal information, devices, home networks, and identities.
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