When you’re a victim of identity theft, it can be really tempting to want to just throw up your hands and start over fresh with new information. And in the case of your bank accounts, credit card accounts, or online accounts, that option is pretty much available to you, especially if the damage is serious enough or widespread enough to warrant cancelling all of your accounts.
But one option that victims have often considered is applying for a new Social Security number. After all, that number is what led to this whole mess in the first place, right? And with your Social Security number compromised, it doesn’t matter how many accounts you close or reopen, the thief can just start all over and continue to cause you problems.
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. In fact, applying for a new Social Security number is such a drastic step that the Identity Theft Resource Center cannot even endorse it, and kindly asks victims to contact them to learn about their other options before considering this process.
First of all, there are no guarantees that it will solve your problems. After all, the criminal managed to access your original number somehow—either through inattentive protections over your number, or through a hacking event that you couldn’t have prevented—so what’s to say that you won’t find yourself in the same situation with your new number?
But more importantly, a new Social Security number does not delete your old number - it simply redirects businesses or government agencies to your new one. Your old number will still be “out there,” and it will still be linked to your identity. You’ll still have to monitor the old number for suspicious activity, but you may be tempted to pay it less attention now that you have a new number. This Fact Sheet can provide you with more information on the process, but also on the problems it can cause.
Think of it this way: if your house becomes infested with cockroaches, do you throw up your hands, pitch a tent in your backyard, and move in? Of course not. That building in front of you is still your house, and it still sits at your address. Just because you’ve decided to look away doesn’t make it not yours, and it certainly doesn’t rid it of the bugs!
You still receive your mail there and you still have to pay your mortgage, except now you don’t get to enjoy the benefits of homeownership. You’ve let a bug infestation take away your home instead of working with an exterminator to rid yourself of the problem and prevent future infestations. Sure, it’s going to take some work to get those bugs out and you might have to make a few changes around the place to keep new bugs from moving in, but it will be worth it when you’re done.
It’s the same with your data. The only surefire way to regain peace of mind is to clean up the mess a thief made with your information, and work to safeguard your personally identifiable information from future attacks. The ITRC can help you get started clearing your name through its 24-hour toll-free call center, and can even provide you with information on how to prevent further problems once your identity has been compromised.