Your financial identity centers on your Social Security number (SSN), which is why a stolen SSN is so valuable to an identity thief. The MyIDCare team has restored thousands of victim’s identities, working with financial institutions and government agencies to clean up their records. The victim often has to put a temporary fraud alert on their credit record, which is a hassle, so our recovery advocates are periodically asked whether it would be easier for the member to just change their SSN and start fresh. It’s a reasonable question, but unfortunately, changing your SSN would just add to your headaches.
The problem is that your credit, tax, and government benefit history is attached to your SSN, so they can’t be erased. And you wouldn’t want them to be. Think about it: without that history, you couldn’t get a loan, rent an apartment, or get your tax refund.
The Social Security Administration does have a procedure for getting a new SSN, but the credit bureaus, banks, and other institutions will still link your old records to this new number. First you would have to notify every business that uses your SSN about your new number, and perhaps deal with the resulting confusion and likely mistakes, since this isn’t a situation they encounter often. However, if a thief did anything under your old SSN, it would still reflect on you. So, now you would have to stay vigilant over two SSNs.
Having a second SSN might also trigger a red flag with some organizations. For example, if you had a new SSN and a thief filed a tax return under your old number, the IRS might ask why you’re not using the new number. In this case, you’d need to explain to the government what’s going on, hence having a second SSN can create more confusion. However, even if a refund check were sent to a scammer, you (or your recovery advocate if you’re a MyIDCare member) could still go through a resolution process, and you would get your refund in the end.
In some cases, a second SSN might not even trigger a red flag. Clerical mistakes that result in two SSN’s showing up on a person’s credit report are not unusual. So, if someone who seemed to be a good, long-time customer applied for a loan using the correct name and address but a different SSN, the bank might inadvertently still extend them credit.
Changing your SSN doesn’t give your identity a fresh start because businesses, credit bureaus, and government agencies will never erase the history that goes with your old number. If you’ve become a victim of identity theft, the best defense is to close a compromised bank account, cancel stolen or bogus credit cards, and put an alert on your credit report. (Or, if you have identity protection, get the help of an expert recovery advocate.) Identity thieves are looking for a quick payoff, and once you’ve blocked them from new mischief, they’ll move on.