3 ways to protect your Social Security number from scammers

Don't become a victim of identity theft

With the recent Equifax breach, we're all concerned about who might get access to our Social Security number.

This week, White House cybersecurity coordinator Rob Joyce said the Social Security number has "outlived its usefulness," saying there ought to be a better, more modern system for identifying people.

Security experts want it modified into a hard-to-hack digital identifier, like the chip in new credit cards, with a PIN number that you set.

Until that happens, though, there are three things you can do to prevent a hacker from doing anything more with your info, if he accesses your Social Security number.

How to protect yourself

1. Sign up for credit monitoring.

Equifax is offering free monitoring right now, though after a year, it will cost you around $12 a month.

Another alternative is the free credit monitoring service offered by the financial website Credit Karma.

They are legitimate, make their money from advertising and referring people to banks, and seem safe ... so far.

2: Freeze your credit.

Freeze your credit by looking for the credit freeze webpages at Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, or by giving them each a call. It should cost roughly $10 at each agency.

A credit freeze restricts who can access your credit report. Banks, credit card companies and other lends check your report when you (or an identity thief) applies to open a new account. This doesn't let that happen until you lift the freeze, either temporarily or permanently.

3. Set up an online Social Security Account.

Set up an online Social Security account at SSA.gov -- before someone else does. This prevents anyone else from creating an online account using your stolen number. Be sure to take advantage of the website's second identity verification measure, which is an extra layer of protection on top of your username and password.

With your online account, you can also monitor your wages and look for any abnormalities that might indicate someone else is using your Social Security number. Your online account is also a portal through which you can access dozens of services, such as requesting a new Social Security card or getting a benefit verification letter, so be sure you're the only one who has access to it. 

What happens if you don't take action?

So, what can happen if you don't take any action.

Since there's a good chance your name, birth date, and Social were stolen in the Equifax breach, and are now for sale on the "dark web," a thief can apply for credit cards in your name, if you don't have a freeze. Of course, he can still try to set up a new account, but the credit card company won't be able to access your credit report if it's frozen, which will likely prevent him from being successful.

And, worse, if you have never set up a Social Security account, they can set one up for you, and start taking your hard earned benefits

Remember: Credit monitoring is fine, but it only tells you about a problem after the problem happens

So take some proactive steps in addition to monitoring your credit so you don't waste your money.

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