Shouting into the wind

At times, warning people to protect their personal information feels like shouting into the wind.

I have mentioned protecting your personal information before, just as I have stressed going to the official Social Security Administration website, www.socialsecurity.gov, for correct information, and have stated that there is no charge for replacing or updating a Social Security number card.

Using recent client contacts encompassing all three topics as an example, I am visiting this topic again. This specific information came from a local Social Security office, but I have personally spoken to people in the same situation. 

For protection of your personal identity, you cannot complete or transmit a Social Security number (SSN) application online at the Social Security website. You can download a blank SSN application and learn what evidence is needed. Application and evidence can then be mailed or brought to a SSA office. No charge. Your documents are returned.

An Internet search about Social Security numbers results in many hits, including to private, for-profit, sites not related in any way to the Social Security Administration. For official Social Security information, go to www.socialsecurity.gov.

Here is the local Social Security office example:

Two different people recently visited the office with a Social Security number (SSN) application prepared by a private company.  

In each case, the person had gone to the Internet for SSN information and ended up at this private website. Each paid a fee of $48 and completed a copied online SSN application on that site. The transaction ended with them printing the application and receiving instructions to mail or bring the form to a Social Security office.

At this point, the people visited the local SSA office and were very upset to learn that they paid money for a free service provided by Social Security.

More importantly, each person had also supplied all of their personal background information, and credit card information, needed for a thief to easily commit identity theft. In fact, they paid to give away their personal information.

This does not imply that any of those private sites are involved in identity theft. It is a warning to protect your personal information. Putting that information on the Internet, completely out of your control, is not a wise action.

Information about identity theft is in SSA publication 005-10064, “Identity Theft and Your Social Security Number” online at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10064.html or from any SSA office.

Detailed information about identity theft is at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website, http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft.

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