Safeguarding your personal information is more important today than ever before. Between credit card security breaches at major retailers and all the sites and apps you use to manage your finances, there are a number of potential weak points that identity thieves could use to their advantage. But there also are measures you can take to protect yourself. If you’re concerned about credit card fraud, for example, you can freeze your credit so that no new lines or accounts can be opened in your name.
But what about your identity in general? Well, you have options. One hard and fast way to shut down potential problems is to lock your Social Security number (SSN). It may sound drastic, but doing so could prevent major headaches and better secure your data — so that when you’re ready to get prequalified to start searching Washington, DC, real estate for sale, you’ll know your credit history hasn’t been tarnished by a thief.
Should you lock your identity?
Here’s why you might consider locking your SSN. For starters, locking it prevents anyone, including you, from using your SSN for any purpose. If your number isn’t active, identity thieves can’t use it either.
But locking your number is an action with far-reaching implications and shouldn’t be taken lightly. While fraud is a legitimate concern, locking your information isn’t a logical step for most people — and for good reason, because it strictly limits a person’s financial flexibility. But there are certain circumstances that can make putting your number on lockdown a smart choice, says Adam Funk, CFP and operator of Savings Coach. “Statistically, fraud is more [likely to be committed by] someone you know, as opposed to a random stranger,” Funk explains. “So it may make good sense to place a lock during potential fraudulent scenarios, such as when relationships go bad, divorces get messy, or if you find a household employee or contractor going through your paperwork.”
So if you’re considering locking your SSN for identity protection, it’s important to understand that this will limit how you can use your own data. When your number is locked, third parties may not be able to access important reference points, like your credit score, which could pose an issue if you need to apply for any kind of loan. Another potential scenario where a locked Social Security number could cause headaches is when you apply for new jobs, especially if a background check is required. But the good news is that locking your SSN isn’t permanent, and you can unlock it at any time.
What you need to know before locking your Social Security Number
While locking your SSN can help protect you from fraud, it may be an unnecessary step if you put some other precautions in place to help keep your sensitive data safe. Before locking your data, consider some of these best practices you can implement right away to reduce the risk of your personal information being compromised.
- Use strong passwords and two-step verification on financial accounts and any other sites or apps that store personal data.
- Don’t give out your SSN over the phone or via unsecured online networks. Look for Web addresses that include “https://” at the beginning of the URL before providing sensitive information (the “s” indicates that the site has some form of encryption to keep data safe).
- Shred paperwork with personal information listed on it — don’t just throw it in the trash.
- Use secured Wi-Fi networks and be cautious about replying to emails with requests for personal info.
- Install anti-virus software on any Internet-connected devices you use.
- Check your credit report annually and confirm it’s accurate. If you find an error, report it immediately.
Ultimately, there’s no major downside to locking your Social Security number if you have no plans to take out loans or apply for new jobs in the near future.
How to lock your SSN
To lock your Social Security number, visit the U.S. government’s myE-Verify website and complete the necessary steps online. “You’ll need to enter your personal data, take a quiz, enter document data, and then get your results,” says Katie Gampietro Burke, CFP and founder of Wealth by Empowerment. “The Self Lock service is free and lasts for one year,” she says, “and participants will be given the opportunity to renew 30 days prior to the expiration date.” The website also offers instructions to unlock your number at any time.
In addition, Adam Funk suggests writing to the three major credit bureaus — Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax — to lock your Social Security number. There may be a nominal fee of about $10 to process the request.