Identity Theft: How To Keep Your Social Security Number Safe From Fraud

eric1513 / Getty Images
eric1513 / Getty Images

Though tax season has come and gone, the Social Security Administration prefaced this year’s rush by updating its recommendations for keeping your Social Security number (SSN) safe. Having your identity stolen has serious financial ramifications and can take months — if not years — and hard work to repair.

See: This Secret IRS Loophole Lets You Reduce Your Retirement Taxes
Find: What To Do If You Owe Back Taxes to the IRS

Following are some ways to protect yourself from identity theft:

Limit the Use of Your Social Security Number

The need for protecting your SSN is crucial because it is used for a lot of benefits and programs. However, some programs and institutions are phasing out its use during registration. Many assistance programs are increasingly using personally created accounts to access their benefits — and some schools, who used to match a student ID with their Social Security number, no longer do so. If you can, use your SSN for tax filings only.

Don’t Carry Your Social Security Card With You

Although your SSN is used for a wide range of programs and benefits, you shouldn’t need to carry the actual card with you (or use it on a day-to-day basis). A thief in possession of your Social Security card is as dangerous as a criminal committing SSN fraud online, if not more so. Memorizing your number is the best way to keep track of it, but if you can’t remember your number, stash it in a safe spot on your heavily secured smartphone.

Avoid Giving Your Whole SSN on the Phone or Online

Most trustworthy companies will be able to establish your identity without your full SSN, so offer part of it — or other supporting identification (i.e.: driver’s license) — for verification purposes. If you are still nervous about divulging your SSN on the phone or online, simply contact the agency yourself to resolve the matter in question. If someone asks for your Social Security number, always ask questions like “How will it be used?” and “What if I refuse to share it?”

Don’t Click on Links From Unknown Sources

This sounds simple enough, but it is one of the most common ways to have your identity stolen. If you do not know who the link is from, do not click on it. Double-check return addresses in emails before clicking — fraudulent emails can look just like real ones. And when in doubt, type the URL into your browser yourself or go directly to the website purportedly asking you for information. If you are unsure of whether something is real or not, call customer service for help.

Check Your Accounts and Credit Score

Actively monitor your accounts and credit statements for any unexplained transactions and report them immediately. Banks and financial institutions often notify you of suspicious account activity when they see it, as well.

Get Rid of Paperwork That Has Your SSN On It

If you can’t fully commit to going 100% paperless, it might be a good idea to shred any seemingly innocent financial papers that contain your Social Security number. With so much personal financial info available securely to individuals online, there should be a lot of documents you can digitize and then destroy. If you must keep physical copies (i.e.: tax returns), make sure you store them in a safe or safe place.

Don’t Use Your SSN as a Password

It should be common sense: Don’t use your SSN as a password. Don’t use any important number or identifier for a password.

Protect Your Mobile Device, Too

We use our cell phones for just about everything and keeping it locked with a pin or biometric lock could help keep your identity safe. Shortening your screen’s awake time is another preventative measure you can take.

Register With a Professional ID Protection Service

Identity theft protection services or ID protection providers can prevent your online bank account details from being stolen, keep your credit score from being manipulated, boost your online reputation and stop online thieves from accessing any sensitive financial or personal information.

Nicole Spector contributed to the reporting on this article.

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This article originally appeared on Identity Theft: How To Keep Your Social Security Number Safe From Fraud