Data Breaches

Equifax Data Breach: Why You Should Care If a Hacker Has Your Social Security Number

By Joe Gervais, a Symantec employee

 

Of all the data breaches that can happen, the ones that can cause you the most harm are likely to involve your Social Security number.

That nine-digit number is the “golden key” to identity theft. Not only is that one piece of information unique to you, but it can also be used to obtain a variety of critical information and services. With your Social Security number in hand, there is little an identity thief can’t do in your name.

Your Social Security number provides access to a wide range of critical information and services, such as new credit, new forms of identification, court records, government benefits, and medical services.

That’s why you should care about the Equifax breach. And it’s also why folks with identity theft protection services, such as LifeLock, can rest a little easier.

While identity theft protection services can’t fully protect you from identity theft—no one can—they may be able to let you know if someone is attempting to open a financial account or take other action in your name. And in LifeLock’s case, if you’re victimized by identity theft while a member, LifeLock can help restore your good name.

Once your Social Security number is in the hands of an identity thief, it's not difficult for that person to find out your home address through public records, or your birthday and age through social media. With all this information, an identity thief can do a tremendous amount of damage to your finances, credit, reputation, even your medical records.

In the event of a breach, the company affected will often offer free credit monitoring services or identity theft protection for one year. Take advantage of such services. They can’t hurt. But keep in mind that it’s difficult to obtain a new Social Security number. So, any thief who has yours can hold on to it for years before either putting it to use against you—or selling it to someone else who’ll do so.

Given the fact that the vast majority of U.S. citizens have only one Social Security number in their lifetime, if thieves obtain yours, you have an ongoing need to remain “on guard.” As they say, “be careful out there”—especially if there’s a chance your “golden key” has landed in the wrong hands.

Joe Gervais is Security Researcher at Symantec. LifeLock is a Symantec company.

Symantec Corporation, the world’s leading cyber security company, allows organizations, governments, and people to secure their most important data wherever it lives. More than 50 million people and families rely on Symantec’s Norton and LifeLock comprehensive digital safety platform to help protect their personal information, devices, home networks, and identities.

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