When my wallet was stolen a few years ago, I went through the usual rigamarole of replacing all the various cards we carry. Among the chores, I went to the local Social Security office, filled in a form, showed my driver’s license and received a replacement card in the mail a couple of weeks later.
In the past few years, identity theft has become the fastest-growing crime in the U.S. and to help stem the tide, the Social Security Administration has instituted new, more rigorous requirements for replacement cards.
During most of our lives, our Social Security cards sit in our wallets or home document storage folders unused. After 65, however, the need to show it turns up more frequently, thereby creating more opportunity for it to be misplaced or stolen, so it’s a good idea to be familiar with these new replacement card rules which also apply to the need for a new card due to name change.
In addition to filing Form SS-5 which is available for download online at the Social Security website, and at local Social Security offices, you must show documents proving citizenship and identity. Acceptable proof of identity includes an unexpired:
- U.S. drivers license
- State-issued non-driver identification card
- U.S. passport
If none of these three documents is available, other choices include:
- Employee ID card
- School ID card
- Health insurance card (not Medicare)
- U.S. military ID card or
- Adoption decree
Acceptable proof of citizenship includes:
- U.S. birth certificate
- U.S. consular report of birth
- U.S. passport
- Certificate of Naturalization or Certificate of Citizenship
All documents must be originals or copies certified by the agency that issued them. One document can serve as both citizenship and identity proof.
The Social Security Administration strongly advises NOT carrying your Social Security card in your wallet. Additionally, it is a good idea to guard your number as closely as a state secret because all an identity thief needs to monumentally screw up your life and cause untold grief setting it right again is your name and Social Security number.
The only entities that may legitimately require your Social Security number are government agencies such as the Social Security Administration, Medicare and the IRS; employers; banking and investment institutions; or others that are required by law to report transactions to the federal government. No one else needs or should be given your Social Security number, including credit card companies.
Amazingly, many retailers and service companies still require a Social Security number which they use in their computer records for customer identification. Don’t do it. In setting up accounts with local utilities after I moved to Portland, Maine, one asked for my Social Security number. When I refused, they insisted. Eventually, we worked out an alternative.
It is also a good idea to check that all three credit reporting companies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – are not including your Social Security number in their credit reports to lenders, employers and others who purchase it. You do not need to pay for this service; you are entitled to one free credit report per year from each company and they must remove your Social Security number upon request.
Remember too, when you are applying for employment, not to fill in the Social Security box on the application until after you have been hired.
Your Medicare card can also put you at risk because your Medicare number is nothing more than your Social Security number with a letter attached at the end. Identity thieves know this, so guard that card too. And if your state still uses Social Security numbers as driver’s license numbers, that card should be carefully protected.
A few years ago, I helped a friend straighten out her life when her identity had been stolen. It is a nightmare of paperwork, uncounted numbers of telephone calls, endless hours on hold, flurries of photocopies, mailings, forms and not a few tears involved to repair your credit because even with the proliferation of identity theft crimes, many companies still assume the fraud is yours. So better to take as many precautions as possible.
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