Home > Identity Theft and Scams > It’s 11 p.m., Do You Know Where Your Social Security Number Is?

Comments 0 Comments
Advertiser Disclosure


Your Social Security number is a skeleton key in the hands of an identity thief, but it’s not just about money. Those nine digits are used in too many transactions to enumerate, and because of that, there are plenty of opportunities for them to fall into the wrong hands.

Whether we’re talking about tax fraud or more serious kinds of identity theft that could land you on a no-fly or even a most-wanted list–crimes committed by someone pretending to be you are an increasing risk of going about one’s day-to-day business. The dangers are both real and serious. Medical treatments fraudulently procured can exhaust your health insurance or pollute your chart in ways that could be literally fatal. And with more than a billion compromised records “out there,” your Social Security number may already be in play.

Think about all the places that have your number. The financial institutions you do business with use them—from credit card companies to banks to brokerage firms. If you went to college or ever joined a gym, that’s two more places where your SSN can be found. New doctor? They’ll probably want it. Medicare cards – what the heck were they thinking? Your insurance providers have your number, as do the plethora of companies you can’t remember who have it somewhere in an unlocked filing cabinet after a long-forgotten contract that dates back to a time before data-related crimes were prevalent.

It makes no difference if you throw those nine digits around like fans tossing confetti in the Canyon of Heroes, or you’re careful with your personally identifiable information.

The entities and institutions that absolutely require you to ante up with your Social Security number are legion, which is why your SSN is such a valuable commodity. Identity thieves make a living destroying your good name, and the SSN associated with it. Bad debt gets soldered to your SSN and credit history when it’s sold to a collection agency, where it is used to squeeze payment out of debtors who don’t want their credit scores to permanently suffer. It would be an understatement to say that bad debt – legitimate or not – tends to have a limiting effect on your future buying power. The lifetime cost of debt is staggering for those with collection accounts pulling down their credit scores. (You can pull your credit scores for free on Credit.com to see where you stand.)

In addition to being a proxy promissory, your Social Security number is a means of identification—another reason it’s in more hands than you can possibly know. Hospitals and insurers use it to make sure you are who you claim to be (and also to collect on unpaid bills). That means administrative assistants and anyone else with a key or a login—from the cleaning crew to support staff—can potentially put a finger on your file and nab those numbers. Prior to 2011, the Department of Defense made it really easy: the SSN was used to identify enlisted men and women on all identity cards, and the number was emblazoned on dog tags, backpacks and travel gear.

There are, of course, places where you should “just say no” to requests for your SSN, but there are many other places where you simply can’t do that.

SSNs used to be printed on all stripe of documents before the scourge of identity theft. Now where is all that stuff? Did you shred it? Maybe you threw your dog tags into a smelter. You’re still not safe. It pays to be paranoid. Remember the aforementioned confetti raining down on the Canyon of Heroes? In 2012, the Super Bowl champion New York Giants were showered with personally identifiable information that included SSNs and medical information, even details about a 54-year-old woman’s mammogram. How do you know your information wasn’t in that rain of paper?

You have no way of knowing who has your Social Security number, which is why the onus falls on you to be vigilant and practice the 3 Ms: Minimize your exposure, Monitor your credit and financial accounts and Manage the damage when the inevitable occurs and you find yourself a victim of identity theft. The faster you shut down the slime that try to use your SSN to rob you or steal goods and services, the faster they will move on to greener pastures.

The black market for personally identifiable information is huge. There is a booming business for those selling SSNs for the commission of fraud. Some of the larger operations even have customer service representatives. Your mission is to keep those customer service reps busy with calls from would-be fraudsters complaining that your SSN doesn’t work.

More on Identity Theft:

Image: larryhw

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Credit.com receives compensation for the financial products and services advertised on this site if our users apply for and sign up for any of them.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team