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Here's a free way to protect your Social Security account

Money Talks News logo Money Talks News 9/18/2019 Karla Bowsher
a person sitting at a table using a laptop: shutterstock_1125902942 © Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock.com shutterstock_1125902942

For better or for worse, Social Security numbers have become a defining part of our identities — and thus a key element of identity theft.

You can protect yourself with common-sense measures like guarding your nine-digit identifier closely and knowing the signs of identity theft. But if you aren’t also protecting your Social Security account, you are still vulnerable — whether you are a worker or a retiree.

In fact, if you don’t safeguard your online mySocialSecurity account, an identity thief potentially could steal your current or future benefits, as I further explain below.

In this regard, safeguarding your mySocialSecurity account is an overlooked but key step in protecting your Social Security from identity thieves. So, here’s what you should know about doing just that.

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Creating a mySocialSecurity account

The Social Security Administration (SSA) issues mySocialSecurity accounts through SSA.gov, the federal agency’s official website.

Having an account enables you to receive personalized estimates of future benefits, view your latest Social Security statement and review your earnings record, for example. You can even request a replacement Social Security card if you lost yours — no need to visit a local Social Security office and wait in line.

But you can’t do any of that if an identity thief claims your mySocialSecurity account before you.

That right: It’s technically possible for someone who has stolen your personal information to use it to create a mySocialSecurity account in your name. And once they have control of your account, they could use it to divert your benefits to their own bank account instead of yours.

Security changes that the SSA introduced in 2017 made it more difficult for someone to hijack your mySocialSecurity account, but it’s still important to create an account before an identity thief beats you to it.

So, even if you have yet to start receiving benefits, there’s reason to create an account and make sure it’s secure.

Related: The Shortest Path to an Amazing Retirement

As the SSA put it in a blog post after making those security changes:

“Create your account today and take away the risk of someone else trying to create one in your name, even if they obtain your Social Security number.”

Also make sure that your account password is lengthy and unique — not one you use for any other accounts. If that makes it too difficult for you to remember the password, consider using a password manager such as 1Password.

Extra protections for mySocialSecurity accounts

The Social Security Administration offers a couple of optional ways to add another layer of security to your mySocialSecurity account.

One option is referred to as simply “extra security.” It is offered when you create an account and involves what the SSA describes as an “upgrade code” that the agency mails to you.

To take advantage of this extra security, you must provide a piece of financial information — such as the last eight digits of your credit card number or information from a tax form — when creating a mySocialSecurity account.

The financial information is used to further verify your identity. Once you submit it, the SSA will mail you a letter, which you will need to complete the process of enabling extra security, according to the agency. (Article continues after video.)

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Another optional measure that adds a layer of security to your mySocialSecurity account is known as blocking electronic access.

Somewhat like a credit freeze, it is a more extreme measure. In fact, the SSA notes that you might want to block electronic access if you are a victim of identity theft or domestic abuse, or if you know your Social Security information has been compromised.

The agency says of blocking electronic access.

“When you do this, no one, including you, will be able to see or change your personal information on the internet or through our automated telephone service.”

To undo this measure, you must contact the administration, ask for your electronic access to be unblocked and prove your identity.

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