Should You Really Use the Social Security Lock?




social security lock
social security lock  

Using Social Security's Self Lock feature keeps anyone from using your Social Security number for credit or employment-related fraud. This prevents someone else's wages from being reported to the Internal Revenue Services as your wages. However, it also will make it difficult or impossible to borrow money or get a new job. Self Lock automatically expires after a year or whenever you take action to cancel it.

A financial advisor can provide guidance on all matters financial, including identify protection.

Social Security Self Lock Basics

The Social Security Administration has a free, online tool called Self Lock that lets you immediately stop someone else from using your Social Security number when applying for a job or a new credit account. You can access this feature after setting up an account at Social Security's E-Verity website.

Employers are required to withhold payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare from employees' paychecks. Employees provide Social Security numbers so the earnings and taxes will be attributed to the correct account. However, some job applicants, such as illegal immigrants, can't get Social Security numbers. In order to work in the United States, they may provide false Social Security numbers to employers.

When that happens, it could mean their wages are being reported as your wages. Also, because Social Security numbers are widely used for identification by creditors, loans taken out by the person using the false Social Security number are likely to show up as belonging to the real owner of the number.

Self Lock eliminates these possibilities by locking the account number. An employer that contacts Social Security to verify the number will be told that it is a mismatch. Similarly, a creditor won't be able to access a loan applicant's credit report.

Benefits of Social Security Lock

By preventing fraudulent use of your number, Self Lock keeps someone else's earnings from being reported as part of your employment record. The user of the false ID will have payroll taxes withheld, but won't be able to later receive any Social Security benefits. The actual owner of the Social Security number will not get benefits from these taxes either. The taxes withheld go into the Social Security fund, but don't activate any benefits for a specific worker.

Self Lock's biggest benefit is that it stops someone from using a fraudulent number to apply for credit. It's possible for someone using a fake Social Security number to get auto loans and mortgages and take on other obligations. This can create problems when the real owner of the Social Security number applies for credit.

Social Security Lock Drawbacks

social security lock
social security lock  

Using Self Lock is a fairly extreme approach to identity protection and it has drawbacks. Social Security Self Lock keeps anyone, including employers and creditors, from verifying a Social Security number. This also means that if the real owner of the Social Security number supplies this number to a prospective employer, the employer will be told that the Social Security number does not match.

Similarly, a creditor such as a bank or credit card company uses a Social Security number to check the credit score of a loan applicant. If the number is locked, the creditor may not be able to access a prospective borrower's score.

This can lead to a rejected loan application and make it difficult or impossible to get a new loan or a new job after you've activated Self Lock.

When Self Lock Makes Sense

Activating Self Lock may be a good move for someone who has reason to think they are at higher than usual risk of having their Social Security number fraudulently used. This may include someone living in a household with a suspicious person or whose personal papers have been exposed to strangers.

Even if suspicions are only moderate, it can make sense to use Self Lock if you don't plan to borrow money or apply for a job. If later on, you do need to apply for a new job or loan, it's simple to reverse Self Lock using Social Security's E-Verify website.

Alternatives to the Social Security Lock

You can do a lot to protect your personal identification without resorting to Self Lock. For instance, you can institute a credit freeze with credit reporting agencies. This requires contacting each individual agency, filling out some paperwork and paying a fee. This won't stop Social Security employment fraud but will make it much harder for a thief to open a new credit account in your name because your credit score and report will be unavailable.

Good basic personal data security can also counter identity fraud. Using hard-to-guess passwords and activating two-factor authentication for online accounts will go a long way toward blocking fraudsters. Other elements of good security include avoiding giving out your Social Security number over the phone and to unsecured websites and sticking to secured wireless networks when logging into sensitive accounts. It also helps to learn to spot phishing attacks aimed at getting your information, keep anti-virus software up to date and use your free annual credit report to look for suspicious activity.

The Bottom Line

social security lock
social security lock  

Activating Social Security's Self Lock feature will prevent anyone from using your Social Security number. This will make it harder for someone to fraudulently give your number when applying for a job or taking out a loan. With equivalent effectiveness, it will also stop you from borrowing money or getting a different job. You can release the Self Lock any time you want, and it lapses on its own after a year, but it probably only makes sense for people with a reason to think they may be extra-vulnerable to identify theft.

Credit Tips

  • A financial advisor can help you make informed decisions about credit and other financial matters. Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesn't have to be hard. SmartAsset's free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you're ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

  • One of the easiest and best ways to protect a Social Security number is to create a personal My Social Security account with the Social Security Administration at SSA.gov. Creating this account blocks anyone else from trying to create an account in your name. Even if they have your Social Security number, they won't be able to create a fake account if you've already opened one.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/blyjak, ©iStock.com/jacoblund, ©iStock.com/SDI Productions

The post Pros and Cons of Using the Social Security Lock appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

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