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Protecting yourself

When it comes to Social Security cards, Mom’s always right

Aundraya Ruse

From the day my mother handed over my Social Security card to me, she warned me against ever carrying it with me.

If only I had listened.

As this 1947 Social Security poster shows, even back then you should be careful with your card

As this 1947 poster from the Social Security Administration shows, even 65 years ago people were urged to take care of their cards. Wish I had.

About nine months ago, I left my wallet in a friend’s car. I kept my debit card and driver’s license in my pocket, but wanted to leave behind the bulky two-fold since it always fell out of my pocket anyway. It’d be safer in the console of her car than on the floor of a restaurant if I didn’t notice it fall out, right? Wrong.

Upon returning to her car, we saw that the window had been smashed and her car broken in to — the second time it had happened in just a couple months. We then went through the entire process of filing a report to a police officer and listing off the things that were missing, and it didn’t even occur to me that my wallet had been one of those items. We had calmed down and almost gotten back home before I realized that my Social Security card was in that wallet.

I called the police back to add to the report and ask what I should do about my Social Security card being stolen. To my horror, their answer was basically, “Sorry about your bad luck. Not much you can do.” You can get a new card sent to you, but that’s about it. As it turns out, there is little more you can do until you can prove some sort of fraud or identity theft. (They won’t just give you a new Social Security number, for example.) So I just had to wait around for credit cards to be taken out in my name and expensive purchases to be made.

However, my hands weren’t really tied. It wasn’t until recently that I decided to pull my credit reports from all three credit bureaus to see if anything I didn’t recognize came up. First of all, let me just say that accessing my reports was a little tricky. Maybe it’s just because it was my first time to do it, or maybe it’s this way for everyone, but I found it a little irritating.

During the verification process at AnnualCreditReport.com — in which they ask you a few questions about old streets on which you lived or the names of any lenders you have in order to ensure that no one other than you can access your report — I couldn’t remember the name of one of my student loan lenders. I guess I answered incorrectly because the first time I tried to access a report from one of the three bureaus, they wouldn’t let me do it online. (They told me I needed to fill out some forms and do it through the mail.) Then, it happened again when I tried to get my report from a different bureau. While it was mildly frustrating, I can appreciate that it’s all done to help keep my information safe.

I did, however, get to view my third credit report online and, to my relief, everything appeared as it should be. No late payments on credit cards used to purchase something like a yacht.  Hopefully, if something like that was going to happen, it would have happened by now. But you never know, so I’ll be sure to keep a close eye in the future.

As my mother warned, remember that you shouldn’t carry your Social Security card around in your wallet. However, if you do, here is what you should do, according to SocialSecurity.gov, in the event that your Social Security card is lost or stolen:

  1. Place a fraud alert on your credit file by contacting one of the three major companies (Equifax, TransUnion or Experian), and that one will alert the others.
  2. Look at your credit report for any suspicious activity.
  3. Close any accounts you think may have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
  4. File a report with the police (and, in my opinion, get a copy of that report).
  5. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission online or by calling them.

To this point, I’ve been lucky, especially since I hadn’t checked up on things much sooner or followed those necessary steps. But many people won’t be so lucky, and while it may seem like identity theft won’t happen to you, it can — and just might — if you aren’t careful.

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