Home Advice & How-ToIdentity What to Do If You Lose Your Social Security Card (It’s a Pretty Big Deal)
Home Advice & How-ToIdentity What to Do If You Lose Your Social Security Card (It’s a Pretty Big Deal)

What to Do If You Lose Your Social Security Card (It’s a Pretty Big Deal)

by Fred Decker

Your Social Security number was never originally intended to serve as a piece of general-purpose identification — in fact, it was explicitly meant not to fill that niche — but, decades later, that’s where we’ve ended up. 

You don’t often need the physical card; just knowing your SSN is enough for most purposes.  That doesn’t mean the card itself is meaningless, though.  If yours is lost or stolen, the repercussions can range from mild inconvenience to a lengthy (and costly) nightmare of identity theft.  Here’s a quick look at what to do if you lose your Social Security card, and what the consequences might be. 

A Lost Social Security Card Is No Joke

Most of the time you’ll be able to get by with simply knowing your SSN, but occasionally you’ll need to physically show the card (if you’re starting a new job, for example).  That’s only a minor inconvenience, because replacing the physical card is not a terribly arduous process.  If this was all you had to fear from losing your card, it wouldn’t be a very big deal. 

Unfortunately, that’s not the case.  A valid SSN card is pure gold to an identity thief, because it has come to be such an important piece of identification.  Criminals could sell your SSN card to someone who’s not legally entitled to work, or use it themselves to get credit or file a tax refund in your name, or incorporate it into a hard-to-detect “synthetic” identity.  The potential for trouble is limited only by the criminals’ imagination and resources, which should leave you very worried indeed. 

So what should you do? 


What to Do If You Lose Your Social Security Card

There are a number of things you’ll need to do if your Social Security card goes missing.  The first is to report it to the Social Security Administration and to begin the process of replacing your card.  You’re entitled to three replacements in the course of a year, and 10 in your lifetime.

In most states, you can order your replacement online by setting up a my Social Security account online.  You’ll need to have a state-issued driver’s license or equivalent state-issued ID, and you can’t be a minor.  You also can’t make any changes to your card, such as a name change.  At the time of writing, only residents of six states — Alaska, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and West Virginia — and the overseas U.S. territories can’t apply this way.  If you live in one of those places, you’ll need to download and complete a paper application, then go to your nearest SSA office with that and your physical ID. 

After you’ve taken this first step, prudence suggests that you should also be proactive about reducing the risks of identity theft. 

Protecting against Identity Theft

Your missing card may eventually turn up somewhere, but it’s safest to assume that it’s out “in the wild” and will eventually fall into the wrong hands.  It’s probably the single most useful piece of ID a scammer could find or buy, so there are a number of additional things you should do to limit the risks (and impact!) of potential identity theft.  These include the following.

Check Your Credit Reports Regularly 

You’re entitled to a free one every year from each of the “Big Three” reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), so if you take them in turn that’s a free one every four months.  If you spot any irregularities (new applications you didn’t make, overdue payments you’re not aware of), it’s worth paying to get them more often. 

Freeze Your Credit 

Placing a fraud alert and/or a credit freeze on your file with each of the Big Three means potential creditors can’t pull a report, and therefore identity thieves are less likely to get credit in your name.  The downside is that you’ll need to have it temporarily lifted if you need to apply for credit yourself. 

Watch Your Accounts Like a Hawk 

Check your bank and credit accounts periodically online, and scrutinize your statements every month.  If you see unexplained purchases, new accounts being opened or any other activity you didn’t initiate, that’s a red flag and you’ll need to follow up with your institution. 

Report Signs of Identity Theft 

If you notice signs that identity thieves have your information, report it immediately to your financial institution, the credit reporting agencies and to law enforcement.  It’s also a good idea to open a file at the FTC’s IdentityTheft.gov website.  As part of the process, you’ll be guided through creating a personalized recovery plan laying out steps you should take to minimize the damage to your reputation and finances. 

Consider an Identity Protection Service

For added peace of mind — and tireless eyes to see the things you miss — consider using an identity protection service like Spokeo Protect.  Spokeo’s service actively monitors the dark web, where criminals traffic in personal data like SSNs.  If your information is offered up for sale, we can give you a heads-up, so you can take preemptive counter-measures before your good name is actively compromised.

Taking Stronger Measures

If your identity has been seriously compromised — or if you’re concerned that it could be — there are a few stronger measures you can take to protect yourself.  These involve some inconvenience at a minimum, and can potentially complicate your life, but they’re worth knowing and considering. 

Secure your SSN 

There are several steps you can take to tighten security around your SSN.  One is setting up two-factor authorization, which means you’ll need to receive a verification code by text or email whenever you log in.  You can also choose “Add Extra Security” in your my Social Security account settings, which will require you to enter additional information (from your credit card number, your W-2 or your 1040 Schedule SE if you’re self-employed). You can also Block Electronic Access, which thwarts automatic access to your SSN by phone or computer.  You’ll need to suspend the block when you apply for credit or a new job, but a scammer can’t do that. 

Lock your Social Security Number

There’s one further step you can take, which is locking your SSN.  To do that, you’ll need to create and log in to a myE-Verify account, then provide and “lock” your SSN.  Once it’s locked, no one can use your SSN to get work with an E-Verify employer, which in turn means you’re less likely to have identity theft mess with your taxes.  Again, you’ll need to unlock your SSN if you apply for a new job. 

Get an Identity Protection PIN

Identity thieves can really complicate your life by filing bogus tax returns with the IRS, claiming your deductions, or simply working under your SSN (which creates income that you won’t report, because you don’t know about it). Setting up an Identity Protection PIN with the IRS means nobody can file under your name, and with your SSN, unless they have that six-digit PIN.  It slows your refund slightly, and you’ll have to keep track of a new PIN every year, but it can block a lot of nefarious activity. 

Get a new SSN  

This is the “nuclear option,” and it’s not a step to take lightly. You absolutely are entitled to request a new SSN if you have solid proof that identity thieves are actively exploiting your existing SSN.  It’s not necessarily going to give you a clean start, though: A lot of businesses and government agencies will still have your information attached to the old number, so there are still gray areas scammers can exploit.  The only way it’s a completely “clean slate” is actually a negative: Your credit history will still be attached to the old SSN, and you’ll often have to re-establish your creditworthiness from scratch. 

The Path Forward

There’s always a possibility that your original card might still turn up, perhaps down behind your nightstand or stuck to the back of the library card in your wallet.  Realistically, though, it’s probably gone forever and this increased level of vigilance represents your “new normal.”

The good news is that it’s probably also the “smart normal,” whether or not you currently see signs of active identity theft.  There’s a surprising amount of your information out there (search yourself on Spokeo periodically as a benchmark; it’s a good habit to develop), and it’s only reasonable to assume that some of it will get into the wrong hands sooner or later. 

If you make a habit of checking your accounts regularly and maximizing account security, you’ll be better positioned to recognize identity theft if (or when) it happens, and to nip it in the bud before it can become troublesome.  That’s not just peace of mind, it’s a genuine modern-day life skill.