Losing your Social Security card isn’t a tragedy. After all, you’ll rarely have to show your card anywhere. What matters is knowing your Social Security number.
But what can cause problems? If your lost card ends up in the hands of scammers or cybercriminals. If they gain access to your Social Security number, they can cause plenty of financial pain.
Armed with your Social Security number, criminals can take out loans or open credit card accounts in your name. They might access your online bank or credit card accounts, using your funds to buy electronics, expensive restaurant meals, hotel stays, and whatever else they desire.
Some might even use your Social Security number to file an income tax return in your name. They’ll then nab any tax refund that you were due. Still others will sell your Social Security number to bidders on the dark web.
What matters most, then, is protecting yourself from identity theft. Yes, you can order a replacement card, but your priority should be to block criminals from using your Social Security number to create trouble in your financial life.
I’ve lost my Social Security card. How can I protect myself?
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce the damage that thieves can cause even if they have nabbed your Social Security number. Follow the steps below for the most protection from identity theft:
Place a fraud alert with the credit bureaus:
Placing a fraud alert with the three national credit bureaus of Experian, Equifax and TransUnion encourages creditors or lenders to take additional steps to verify that it is you applying for a new loan or credit card and not someone pretending to be you.
If someone applies for a new credit card in your name, the credit card company can call you at a number that you provide. You can then verify if you have applied for the card or if someone is trying to fraudulently open an account in your name.
You only need to place an alert with one of the three credit bureaus. That bureau will contact the other two. Your fraud alert will remain attached to your credit file for one year. You have the option to renew the alert after the one-year period ends.
Best of all? It’s free to place a fraud alert. You can contact the bureaus here to place an alert on your credit files:
Equifax fraud alert
Experian fraud alert
TransUnion fraud alert
Order your free credit reports:
You want to identify the signs of identity theft quickly. If you lose your Social Security card, then, you should order copies of your free credit reports – one each maintained by Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – from AnnualCreditReport.com.
Usually, you are allowed to order one free report from each bureau every year. During the COVID-19 pandemic, though, you can order one report at no charge from each bureau every week. This makes it even easier to monitor your credit reports for suspicious activity.
Once you get your reports, check them for any credit card accounts or loans that you know you never opened. Strange accounts on your credit reports are a sign that someone is using your identity.
Review your other financial accounts:
You should also check your online bank and credit card accounts for suspicious purchases or large withdrawals. Criminals might have used your Social Security number to access these accounts. Depending on how worried you are about identity thieves, you can check these online accounts daily for suspicious activity.
Alert your banks, credit card providers and lenders:
If you spot anything unusual on your credit reports, bank accounts or credit card accounts, contact the bank, financial institution or lender connected to these accounts.
Explain that you recently lost your Social Security card and you suspect that a criminal is using your Social Security number to make purchases in your name, take out fraudulent loans or open credit card accounts using your information. Remember, you are not responsible for these fraudulent purchases, but you must report them. Ask your bank or credit card provider to close your cards and bank accounts to stop any additional illegal purchases or withdrawals.
Set up new passwords:
Next, change the passwords on your online accounts. You want to make it as difficult as possible for an identity thief to access those accounts and protecting them with complex passwords is an easy step to take.
Enact a credit freeze:
You can gain additional protection from scammers by freezing your credit with the three national credit bureaus. A freeze prevents lenders, credit card providers and other creditors from accessing your credit report, even when you, or someone else, applies for a new loan or credit card. Because creditors and lenders can’t access your credit, they’ll automatically deny your request for a loan or new credit card. This stops identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name.
There is some inconvenience attached to credit freezes: If you do want to apply for a loan or credit card, you will have to unfreeze your credit. Fortunately, both freezing and unfreezing your credit is free, though you must freeze or unfreeze your credit at all three bureaus.
Here are links to each bureau’s credit freeze portals:
Experian credit freeze
Equifax credit freeze
TransUnion credit freeze
Report your lost Social Security card to the IRS:
You don’t want scammers filing tax returns in your name, something they might do if they’ve nabbed your Social Security number. If they do, they might be able to steal your income tax return, possibly cheating you out of thousands of dollars.
Reporting your stolen Social Security card to the IRS can prevent scammers from filing a tax return in your name. For more information, check out this identity protection page from the IRS.
File a report with the FTC:
You should also file a report with the Federal Trade Commission if you’ve lost your Social Security number and you’re worried about identity theft. File a report at this link.
I want a new Social Security card. How do I get one?
Once you’ve taken the steps to protect yourself from identity theft, you can move on to ordering a replacement Social Security card. Fortunately, doing this is an easy process.
Do it online: You might be able to order a replacement Social Security card online. To do this, you'll need a my Social Security account. You can set up your account here.
Prove your identity: If you can't request a new card online, you'll need to bring certain documents to your local Social Security office. You must bring either original documents or copies certified by the agency that issued them. Social Security agents can't accept photocopies of these documents or notarized copies.
You'll need to prove your identity by providing your U.S. driver's license, state-issued non-driver identification card or U.S. passport. The Social Security Administration has a helpful list of the documents you might need here.
Foreign-born citizen? If you are a foreign-born U.S. citizen and you have not already established your U.S. citizenship with the Social Security Administration, you might need to bring proof of your U.S. citizenship. Documents that count for this include your U.S. passport, Certificate of Naturalization, Certificate of Citizenship, Certificate of Report of Birth or Consular Report of Birth Abroad.
You can apply in person for your new card at any Social Security office. You can find the closest office to you here.
How long does the process take? Though it might vary, you can expect to receive your new Social Security card within seven to 10 business days.
Do you really need a new card?
Before ordering a new card, though, consider whether you need one. You’ll rarely need to show your Social Security card to anyone. You might have to provide your Social Security number, but you don’t need your physical card to do this.
If you do get a new card, be careful with it. Don’t put it in your wallet where you might lose it again. Instead, keep it at home in a safe place.
And remember, you aren’t guaranteed an unlimited supply of Social Security cards. The Social Security Administration says that you can request a maximum of three replacement Social Security cards a year and 10 over your lifetime.
Would you know if your Social Security number was being used?
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