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Let’s say your identity was stolen and the identity thief opened up dozens of fraudulent accounts, causing you tons of grief and taking months (or years) to untangle the mess. Can you get a new Social Security number and just be done with the records associated with that horrible episode? Or if your number was exposed in a breach and you feel nervous that it could be misused at some point in the future (and yes, it could), can you change your number as a precaution?

The answer is probably no. But there are circumstances (five, to be exact) in which you can qualify for a new number. They are:

  • a continuing threat of abuse of your number;
  • more than one person was assigned the same number (that is rare, but it has happened);
  • there is a situation of harassment, abuse or a life in danger (as in some domestic violence situations);
  • sequential numbers assigned to members of the same family are causing problems;
  • religious or cultural objections to certain numbers or digits in the original number.

Even if you qualify, you might want to consider seriously the impact of taking this step. In many cases, employment information and medical records will be associated with your former Social Security number. So a new number can create some problems you may not have anticipated.

And if you are changing your number because you were a victim of domestic violence, you may also be changing your name. If that is the case, the Social Security Administration suggests changing your name first. Domestic abuse victims can also elect to have access to Social Security information blocked electronically.

No matter why you want to change your number, you’ll have to go in person to a Social Security office and document your reasons. If, for example, the number or digit sequence is the problem because of a religious objection, you’d need both documentation of the objection and evidence that you have an established relationship with the group that finds it offensive.

In the case of identity theft, just the fact that you have been a victim will not be enough; you would need evidence suggesting that despite your best efforts to put an end to it, the abuse of your number continues.

In any case, you will need documents to show proof of citizenship and immigration status. (Original documents are typically required.) You can get a head start on filling out the forms you’ll need and knowing which documents to bring here.

While it can be difficult to track all potential signs of misuse of your information, checking your credit reports regularly from each of the three major credit reporting agencies can help you catch some instances of fraud that can be committed in your name. Keep an eye out for unauthorized new accounts or collection items, and make sure all information on your reports is accurate and up to date. You can get your free annual credit reports mandated by federal law at AnnualCreditReport.com, and you can get your free credit report summary from Credit.com, which is updated monthly, to watch for changes.

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