A Social Security number is a federally issued number used to identify consumers for tax, employment and credit purposes. Safeguarding this personal information can protect consumers against crimes like identity theft and other criminal activities.
According to the California Public Interest Research Group, an identity theft victim will spend approximately 175 hours and $800 trying to clear his record of fraudulent charges. This is normally a result of someone using another person's Social Security number with criminal intent to open up fraudulent bank accounts, credit card accounts or other personal loans in her name.
Identity theft is no longer restricted to credit fraud, however. Identity theft using a consumer's Social Security number can result in medical identity theft, as a perpetrator could use a consumer's Social Security number to claim medical benefits and gain services.
In addition, employment fraud can also be committed. A consumer can be victimized by someone else using his Social Security number on W-4 forms for employers, resulting in IRS consequences come tax time.
Because Social Security numbers are often required to open up accounts, claim medical benefits, file for employment or even open utilities, an unscrupulous person with a stolen Social Security number can wreak havoc on several aspects of someone's life.
When supplying a Social Security number to any merchant, consider whether or not it's really needed. Offer up alternative forms of identification such as a driver's license number or state identification number.
Make a point to destroy all documentation that has your Social Security number printed on it, as opposed to simply throwing it away in the trash. Above all, keep your Social Security number and card in a safe place, such as a fireproof safe or safe deposit box at a bank in order to make certain it doesn't fall into the wrong hands.