Should You Lock Your Social Security Number?

Some people are just more careful than others. They always lock their cars, they look both ways before crossing the street and they don’t open emails from unknown senders. If you’re one of them, and you have reason to be concerned about identity theft, the U.S. government offers a powerful tool to help keep you safe: You can lock your Social Security number.

 

How It Works

Locking your Social Security number is a simple process of going online and accessing the government’s myE-Verify website. The site walks you through the necessary steps, including creating an account, entering your Social Security number and your date of birth, then taking a short quiz. You must set up three “challenge” questions so you can later prove you’re really you when you want to access your account again. 

The lock lasts for a year unless you take steps to undo it, and you’ll be notified in advance when the lock is about to expire so you can renew it if you want to.

 

Advantages of Locking Your SSN

No one can use your Social Security number when it’s locked. No one can apply for a job in your name using your number and potentially run up a tax bill for money you never earned. No one can apply for credit or open new accounts in your name that require a Social Security number. Anyone attempting to verify your number will receive a notice of “tentative nonconfirmation,” which is effectively a mismatch – the number is not in use.

 

Drawbacks of Locking Your SSN

It may not make sense to lock your Social Security number if you don’t have reason to believe your identity has been compromised or is at serious risk of being compromised. When you lock your number, it prevents even you from using it when you need to, such as applying for credit or a new job. Potential lenders will not be able to access your credit report or credit score.

 

Unlocking Your SSN

If you lock your SSN, then later need to buy a new car or apply for employment with a company that requires a background check, you can unlock your number at any time. Afterwards, you can lock it again after you’ve taken care of business. Just log into your myE-Verify account and follow the prompts.

 

Less Drastic Options

Unless you fear that your identity is imminently at risk for theft, you can always protect your Social Security number in less drastic ways. Don’t throw out any paperwork that includes your number without shredding it first. Make sure your computer’s anti-virus software is up-to-date and don’t invite trouble by using open Wi-Fi networks. Be very suspicious of anyone who asks for your SSN over the phone or in an email. 

You may be asked to provide your SSN when you apply for certain services or, sometimes, when you seek medical care. You can decline to give your number, but the provider can then choose to deny you service. Ask a few questions to help you decide whether you want to give your number, such as why is it necessary, how it will be stored and if it will be shared with other companies.

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