Your Social Security card is a vital personal document. It contains your Social Security number (SSN), which is a unique identifier that plays a crucial role in establishing your identity and is linked to your tax and credit records. Losing this piece of personal identification puts you at risk of identity theft.
Once your Social Security number is compromised and a thief uses it to commit fraud, fully recovering your identity can be challenging. Therefore, you must safeguard your Social Security card and number. However, if you do misplace your card or it’s stolen, there are some steps you can take to help detect fraud and protect your identity.
Keep reading to understand what happens if you lose your Social Security card, what you need to keep an eye on and how to get a replacement card.
What happens when you lose your Social Security card?
Your Social Security number is a nine-digit identifier issued by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to U.S. citizens, permanent residents and certain eligible non-citizens. It was originally intended to track individuals' earnings and contributions to the Social Security system, but over time, it's become a critical component of one's identity.
Losing your Social Security card can have negative consequences, as we'll cover below.
Potential for identity theft
The primary concern when you lose your Social Security card is the potential for identity theft. If your Social Security number falls into the wrong hands, it could lead to fraudulent activity in your name, financial losses and damage to your credit history.
Here are some ways a scammer may use a stolen Social Security number for identity theft fraud and related scams:
- Opening financial accounts: Criminals can use a stolen Social Security number to open bank accounts, credit cards or loans in your name. They then make fraudulent purchases and accumulate debt, hurting your financial reputation.
- Employment fraud: Thieves may use stolen Social Security numbers to gain employment, which not only leads to tax issues but can also affect your Social Security benefits.
- Tax fraud: Someone can file fake tax returns using stolen Social Security numbers to claim fraudulent refunds.
- Medical identity theft: Social Security numbers are sometimes used fraudulently to access medical services, obtain prescription drugs or file false insurance claims. Medical identity theft could jeopardize your health if false information becomes part of your medical history.
- Criminal activity: Identity thieves may commit crimes using stolen identities. If they’re arrested or convicted under your identity, it can result in wrongful legal actions against you.
- Utility fraud: Criminals can use stolen Social Security numbers to open utility accounts like electricity, water or phone services. This can lead to unpaid bills and damaged credit.
- Social Security fraud: Identity thieves may apply for government benefits using your stolen Social Security number, which could impact your ability to access these benefits.
Difficulty accessing government benefits
Your Social Security number is how you access essential government benefits and services. Whether it's Medicare, Social Security retirement benefits or disability benefits, you'll need your Social Security number to prove your eligibility. Losing your card can make it challenging to access these services if you don’t know your Social Security number.
What to do if you lost your Social Security card
There are some things to keep an eye on when your Social Security card is lost or stolen. If you detect any fraud, it's crucial to take immediate action. Here's a guide on what to do if you misplace your Social Security card.
1. Monitor your credit reports and financial accounts, and report fraud immediately
Keep a close eye on your credit reports and financial accounts. Regularly review your bank, credit card and investment account statements. Request a copy of your credit report, which you can access weekly. Look for any suspicious activity or unauthorized transactions. If you spot anything unusual, alert the respective financial institution and credit reporting agencies. Additionally, report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) immediately on its website.
2. Consider a credit freeze or fraud alert
To add an extra layer of security, consider contacting the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — to place a credit freeze or fraud alert on your credit reports.
Credit freezes offer a protective measure that's accessible to anyone, regardless of whether your identity has been stolen or not. Essentially, a credit freeze limits access to your credit report. When it’s in effect, neither you nor potential identity thieves can open new credit accounts in your name. A credit freeze remains active indefinitely until you decide to remove it. However, you can temporarily lift it when necessary, such as when applying for new credit.
If you want to freeze your credit, you must contact all three credit bureaus to place a freeze with each one.
If you suspect fraudulent activity, you can contact one of the three major credit bureaus to have a standard fraud alert placed on your credit report. The one you contact will alert the other two agencies. This alert requires businesses to verify your identity before issuing new credit under your name. A standard fraud alert is a free service and typically lasts one year, after which you can renew it.
An extended fraud alert is available to victims of identity theft who have either completed an FTC identity theft report or filed a police report. Like a standard fraud alert, an extended fraud alert heightens the difficulty of someone opening new credit accounts in your name. An extended fraud alert is also free and lasts seven years.
3. Replace your Social Security card
Lastly, you can replace your lost Social Security card through the SSA. There is an application process to receive a new card, and we’ll cover how to do that below.
How to get a new Social Security card after losing yours
Assuming you know your Social Security number and have taken precautions to ensure it hasn’t been used fraudulently, you may not need to replace the physical card. However, some organizations — such as your employer when you get a new job — may require you to present original documents or a copy of your Social Security card.
If you still want a new physical card, you can get a replacement Social Security card for free with the following steps.
1. Determine your eligibility to request a replacement Social Security card
You must meet certain criteria to be eligible for a replacement card. Generally, you need to be a U.S. citizen or have lawful permanent resident status and have a valid reason for needing a new card, such as loss, theft or damage.
2. Fill out a replacement Social Security card application
In some cases, you can apply online for a Social Security card replacement. To see if you are eligible for an online application, complete the questionnaire on the SSA website.
Alternatively, you can fill out the application form (Form SS-5) and visit your local office. You must also bring the required documents to prove your identity. You'll need your U.S. driver's license, state-issued non-driver identification or a valid U.S. passport. If you don’t have one of those, the office may accept another form of identification that includes your name, birth date or age and a recent photo. Some qualifying documents may include U.S. military, school or employee identification cards. All required documents must be originals or certified copies.
3. Wait for your request to process and receive your new Social Security card
Once you submit your completed application and supporting documents, the SSA will process your request. You should receive your new Social Security card in the mail within seven to 10 days. Make sure to keep the new card in a secure place. It’s best not to carry it with you, as it’s rare to be asked to show the card itself.
How to report a stolen Social Security number
While you don’t need to report a lost Social Security card, you may need to report a stolen Social Security number to the FTC if you believe you are a victim of identity theft.
You can report identity theft by visiting the FTC’s website. You should file the report immediately once you suspect someone is using your personal information for fraud. The system will ask questions to determine your risk and provide a personal recovery plan.
What happens if you lose your Social Security card FAQ
What do I do if I lost my birth certificate, Social Security card and ID?
To replace your birth certificate, contact the state's vital records office where you were born. The procedures for obtaining replacements for government-issued ID cards can differ and may require official documents, such as your birth certificate, to verify your identity and U.S. citizenship. If you've lost your driver's license or other DMV-issued identification card, visit or contact your state's motor vehicle department for instructions on how to apply for a replacement.
Lastly, you can replace your Social Security card by applying for a replacement on the Social Security Administration's website. In some cases, you may need to fill out an application and bring it to your local office.
Losing these documents presents the risk of identity theft. If you believe you may be the victim of identity theft, submit a report on the FTC website as soon as possible. The FTC will give you a personalized recovery plan.
How long does it take to replace a lost Social Security card?
How much does it cost to replace a lost Social Security card?
There is no cost to replace a lost or stolen Social Security card. The Social Security Administration provides this service free of charge.
You can request a maximum of three replacement cards in a single year and a total of 10 replacements throughout your life. Name changes or other card updates aren't counted towards those limits. Further, if you can demonstrate that not having the card would result in significant hardships, you may be exempt from these replacement limits.
Can I change my Social Security number after identity theft?
If your identity is stolen and the thief uses your Social Security number for fraudulent activity, it may cause financial problems. The Social Security Administration may allow you to get a new Social Security number, but it's not easy and should be used as a last resort after trying everything else to solve the problem.
To receive a new Social Security number, you must contact your local Social Security office with your request and schedule an in-person appointment. You may have to prove that your number is being used by someone else and that the fraud is causing you financial harm. You can't get a new Social Security number if your card is lost or stolen, and there isn't any evidence that someone is using your number.
Summary: What happens if you lose your Social Security card?
Losing your Social Security card can have serious consequences, including the potential for identity theft and difficulties accessing government benefits. However, by taking immediate action, monitoring your financial accounts and following the steps to replace your card, you can mitigate these risks and regain peace of mind.
Remember that safeguarding your Social Security card and personal identification information is essential to protect yourself from identity theft and financial harm. Stay vigilant, report any fraud promptly and follow the necessary procedures to obtain a replacement card if needed.