How Social Security Numbers Work

Social Security Number Protection

Experts suggest you take the following steps to lessen your chances of becoming a victim:

  • Don't carry your Social Security card, passport or birth certificate in your purse or wallet.
  • Cancel any credit cards you don't use.
  • Don't share your SSN when it isn't necessary. (For purchases and business transactions other than banking, trading stock or buying property, it isn't necessary.)
  • Remove your name from mailing lists. By calling (888) 5OPT-OUT, you can get your name off the marketing lists of the three primary credit bureaus. (This will, in turn, decrease the number of pre-approved credit offers you receive.)
  • Request a copy of your Social Security Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement at least every three years to make sure the information in your file is correct. (You can do this online through the SSA Web site.)
  • Be aware of what's on your credit report -- pull your report once or twice a year to be sure it's correct.
  • If your bank uses your SSN as a personal identification number (PIN) or as the identifier for banking by phone, write or call to request a different number. If you use the last four digits of your SSN as your ATM PIN, change it to something less predicable (not your birth date!).
  • If your state Department of Motor Vehicles uses SSNs as driver's license numbers, ask for an alternate number. Most will cooperate.

What if I find out someone else is using my SSN?

First, you should call the police and contact the Social Security Administration Fraud Hotline, which is operated by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), an independent law enforcement agency that investigates violations connected with SSA programs. These violations include the following:


  • Misuse of an SSN
  • False statements on claims
  • Misrepresentation or concealment of facts affecting eligibility
  • False statements made to obtain an SSN
  • Crimes involving SSA employees
  • Conflict-of-interest and standards-of-conduct violations
  • Mismanagement and/or waste of funds

You will need to provide detailed information about the crime or fraud being committed against you. Investigators at the Fraud Hotline will review this information and determine the best course of action. If you would rather remain anonymous, you can do so, but this can make solving your problem more difficult. After your initial report, you will be contacted by an investigator for additional information.

The SSA and the OIG do not help with credit problems caused by someone misusing your Social Security number. Instead, you will need to work with credit card companies and credit reporting agencies to correct the problem and alert them that someone has been making fraudulent use of your SSN. The three major credit reporting bureaus are:

  • Equifax - (800) 525-6285
  • TransUnion - (800) 680-7289
  • Experian - (888) 524-3666

For more information on Social Security numbers and related topics, check out the links below.

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