You lost your Social Security card. Any time personal information goes missing, it can be unnerving. How big of a problem is this, exactly?
The card itself is not much of one. Replacing a lost Social Security card is free and relatively simple. The bigger worry is what happens if your Social Security number falls into the wrong hands, and criminals use it to steal your identity. Then, you have a problem.
You can reduce the odds of trouble by acting quickly. Follow this fast plan if you’ve lost your Social Security card.
Protecting your identity
To understand whether someone has stolen your Social Security number, keep a close watch on your credit reports. Thieves could use your Social Security number to apply for new credit cards in your name, racking up debt without you even realizing. This could send your credit score tumbling. You might also start receiving calls from angry creditors wondering why you haven’t paid your bills.
The best way to determine if someone is illegally using your Social Security number is to order copies of your credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. You are entitled to one free credit report from each of the three national credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — each year. Once you have your reports, study them carefully. Look for new lines of credit taken out in your name that you know you never applied for.
If you do suspect someone is using your Social Security number illegally, visit IdentityTheft.gov, a website run by the Federal Trade Commission, to report the theft. You can also file an online complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
It’s important to also report the theft to either Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion. The credit bureau will place a fraud alert on your credit report, and will also notify the other two bureaus so that they will do the same.
Next, contact the IRS. This will keep identity thieves from filing a tax return in your name and then collecting a refund that is owed to you.
A simple fix if there’s no evidence of identity theft
If you want a new Social Security card, you may be able to apply for a replacement on the Social Security Administration’s website. Replacements are free. First, you’ll need to create a mySocialSecurity account. You must be a U.S. citizen who is 18 or older with a U.S. mailing address. You must also have a driver’s license or state-issued ID from one of the following 18 places: Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, or Wisconsin.
If you don’t meet the criteria for an online application, you can submit an application for a replacement card in person or by mail to your local Social Security office. You’ll need to provide your U.S. driver’s license, state-issued nondriver identification card, or U.S. passport.
You can apply for a maximum of three new Social Security cards a year, and a maximum of 10 during your lifetime.
What if you’re a victim of identity theft?
If you have evidence that someone else is using your Social Security number, you can request a new Social Security number from the Social Security Administration. Just be sure you can actually prove that someone is using your number and that this use is harming you. If you can’t provide evidence of this, you won’t be given a new Social Security number.
For example, your evidence could be a credit report listing several credit cards that you’ve never applied for. Or, evidence could be a letter from the IRS informing you that your income tax filings were rejected because someone else already filed them.
If you suspect someone is using your number, call the Social Security Administration fraud hotline at 1-800-269-0271.
To prevent your Social Security number from falling into the wrong hands, don’t carry your card with you. There is absolutely no reason to keep your Social Security card in your wallet. Instead, keep it in a safe-deposit box, at home, or in another secure location