Can identity theft send you to jail?
What you need to know about Social Security theft & fraud
Gloria was in the airport, rushing to make a flight for her trip to Chicago. She noticed an email from her CPA, who needed to confirm her Social Security number while working on some tax documents. Gloria raced down the jetway, buckled into her seat, and started to dial her broker, but stopped. Reciting her Social Security number over the phone in a packed airplane wasn’t a good idea―and she knew emails and texts were risky, too. She ended up whispering over the phone in the cramped airplane bathroom just prior to takeoff, but she knew there had to be a better way.
Today, Social Security theft and fraud is big business. With hackers and scams becoming more agile and sophisticated every day, keeping your Social Security number safe is critical. In 2017, Social Security breaches reached an all-time high in the United States:
- 830 data breach incidents involving Social Security numbers occurred―more than half of all reported data breaches (Identity Theft Resource Center)
- Nearly 158 million Social Security numbers were exposed throughout the year (Identity Theft Resource Center)
- Social Security data exposed in 2017 was eight times that of 2016 (Experian)
And of course, there are many times when you do need to share your Social Security information―but doing it in a smart and safe way can be a challenge.
Know the risks of unsecure Social Security sharing – Before you hit ‘send’ on that email to your new employer that contains your Social Security number, make sure you understand exactly what can happen if thieves intercept that information.
Scammers can open accounts – With your Social Security number in hand, they can open bank accounts, get credit cards, set up online shopping profiles, and more―all in your name.
Your FICO score can take a beating – Defaults on accounts taken out in your name by identity thieves can destroy your credit rating, and it can take years to repair the damage.
You could end up in court―or worse – Crimes committed using your Social Security information can put you at risk of litigation, or even arrest.
Now, all this might make you want to submerge your Social Security card in a cement block and bury it in the backyard. Don’t panic though; we’ve got some tips to help you share safely whenever you need to!
CHECKLIST: Know when you DON’T have to share your social security number
- When you get an unsolicited phone call from someone saying they are with the IRS or the Social Security Administration (FYI, they don’t cold call―ever)
- When you apply for customer reward programs
- When you apply for store loyalty card programs
- When you are filling out medical or dental intake forms
- When you are making airline reservations
- When you are applying for a job
- When you are enrolling in a school or college
If you are asked for your Social Security number and you’re suspicious about the request, don’t be afraid to push back on the requestor with the following questions:
- Why do you need my Social Security number?
- What will it be used for?
- What alternate identification do you accept?
- What happens if I don’t provide my number?
- What law requires me to provide you with my Social Security number?
When sharing is required, what should you do?
When sharing your Social Security number is a requirement, share it securely―never email or text it, and don’t write it down on a scrap of paper; your best bet is to share by phone.
Pro Tip: When phoning’s not practical, use a secure, encrypted messaging service that lets you safely share information—and erase it afterward
Be proactive: Protect yourself against Social Security theft
When identity thieves get their hands on your Social Security information, you could be at risk for problems that can take years to reverse. When you have a legitimate reason to share your Social Security number electronically, you just can’t take risks with security.
Using the next generation of secure messaging technology, Dust provides a safe and encrypted way you can share your Social Security information with authorized contacts. And you can quickly and easily destroy any trace of your information after you share it.