Dear Liz: A large safe containing our passports, Social Security cards, birth certificates, checks and credit cards was stolen from our home several days ago. We notified our bank and credit card companies. Is there an advantage to requesting new Social Security numbers? If we do this, would it affect our credit in any way?
Answer: New Social Security numbers wouldn’t necessarily protect you from identity theft and could create additional complications.
Thieves might still be able to use your old numbers to establish new accounts, and those fraudulent accounts could show up in your credit reports. If for some reason the credit bureaus didn’t combine the records for your old and new numbers, then you could be left without any credit history at all, which could make getting future credit difficult.
The Identity Theft Resource Center, which advises victims and has a fact sheet on this issue (No. 113, available on its website at http://www.idtheftcenter.org), typically doesn’t recommend applying for new numbers. Instead, it suggests credit freezes, which prevent most lenders from viewing your credit reports or establishing new accounts without your consent.
Credit freezes aren’t foolproof, since some lenders don’t check with credit bureaus before opening accounts. Credit freezes also won’t prevent a thief from using your Social Security numbers to commit healthcare fraud or criminal identity theft (which is when a thief pretends to be you when he or she is arrested). Also, there may be fees involved with freezing and unfreezing your credit reports.
But credit freezes are probably your best defense at this point, before you’ve been victimized. You can learn more about credit freezes at the Consumers Union site, DefendYourDollars.org.