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The exposure of Social Security numbers during the recently reported Equifax data breach is worrisome to consumers concerned about becoming victims of identity theft.
For better or for worse, the nine-digit numbers have become a core element of our identities — and thus a key element of identity theft.
This is why some experts recommend a credit freeze for folks whose personal information is believed to have been compromised. This drastic protective measure stops thieves — and anyone else — from using data like your Social Security number to open fraudulent financial accounts in your name.
However, the Social Security Administration reports there are other protective measures you can take to protect your nine-digit identifier. If the Equifax breach affected you, consider taking these actions in addition to — or instead of — a credit freeze.
1. Create a SSA.gov account
As we detailed in June in “Big Change Coming to Social Security Accounts This Weekend,” it’s important to create an SSA.gov account before a crook beats you to it. As the Social Security Administration puts it:
Create your account today and take away the risk of someone else trying to create one in your name, even if they obtain your Social Security number.
That’s right: Criminals who have stolen your Social Security number or other personal information can use that information to create an SSA.gov account in your name. Once they have control of your account, they can use it to divert your benefits.
2. Enable ‘extra security’
Creating an SSA.gov account allows you to take advantage of a feature the website calls “extra security.” This “extra level of protection” is optional, so you can only benefit from it if you create an account and manually enable the extra security.
3. Consider blocking electronic access
If your Social Security number has been compromised recently, consider an option the Social Security Administration calls “Block Electronic Access.” Taking this step means your Social Security record cannot accessed by electronically — including through the administration’s automated phone service or website.
The Social Security Administration explains:
When you do this, no one, including you, will be able to see or change your personal information on the internet or through our automated telephone service.
To undo this measure, you must contact the administration, ask for your electronic access to be unblocked and prove your identity.
According to the administration, you might want to consider this block if you:
- Have been the victim of domestic violence
- Have been the victim of identity theft; or
- Have any reason you do not want your record to be available.
To learn more about other ways to protect your identity, check out:
- “Should You Use a Credit Freeze to Protect Yourself?“
- “4 Reasons You Should Never Pay for Credit Monitoring“
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