I recently did something that I'm afraid could be potentially dangerous. I went into a local business and had my Social Security card laminated. This was done in a back room, and it wasn't until it was all over that it occurred to me that I could have compromised my number. Can my name and number be used if they don't know my address or anything else about me? How can I keep tabs of this? -- A.&K.M., of Swansea
While I wouldn't lose any sleep over it at this point, you're very wise to be concerned. Names, Social Security numbers and birth dates are the three holy grails for identity thieves, so if yours falls into unscrupulous hands, they potentially could cause you all kinds of headaches.
Here's why: If I lose a credit card, a thief would use it until it was canceled. However, he probably wouldn't go to the trouble of hacking into, say, Visa's computers to try to obtain the rest of my personal information. He would simply move on to steal someone else's card. Besides, I would not be obligated for any of the purchases and the rest of my personal information would not be compromised.
But as identity-theft victim Mari Frank writes in her "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Recovering from Identity Theft," a Social Security number is the "key to the kingdom."
They're used everywhere (even though they originally weren't supposed to be). With it, I can apply for credit cards, open accounts and do all sorts of mischief, including creating an identity for myself. I'm sure you've read stories where thieves have stolen a baby's new number and then gone to town.
That's one reason the Social Security Administration specifically urges people to NOT laminate their cards. It's not illegal, but, as the SSA says, there's no reason you should need to. You should never, ever carry your card around as you would a driver's license, so it should be subject to no wear and tear. I know mine's a little yellower, but it still looks as good as the day I got it decades ago.
But there's a more important reason: Like the nation's paper money, Social Security cards have had ever more sophisticated security features built into them. Lamination may prevent these features from being detected, so, for example, a potential employer may not accept it.
That said, I really don't want to overly alarm you. Chances are, the business was on the up-and-up and the employee made no record of your number. Just the same, you should be on the alert for the following indications that someone is using your info to their advantage:
Since many thieves are out for quick financial gain, they would probably use the number to apply for credit cards or open store accounts. So, watch your mail for strange bills and be alert for phone calls from businesses you've never dealt with.
Personal experience: About three years ago, my own credit card number was stolen through no fault of my own. Someone hacked into the records of a company I ordered from and took my number. Fortunately, MasterCard quickly wondered why I was suddenly making a spate of charges in Chicago stores, so they called me. I was not billed, a new card was issued and I even received a year of free identity-theft protection for my trouble.
In the near future, you might also be on the lookout for calls from collection agencies about accounts you never opened, a denial of credit if you've always had a good history or even an expected bill or other mail that doesn't show up.
You might also periodically go to www.myidscore.com to see whether you might be a victim. By filling in a bit of information (SSNs are optional), it will give you a probability score of between 1 and 999. Mine came back at 227 Friday, which was low.
Whether your identity is stolen or not, you should always inspect your credit reports offered by TransUnion, Experian and Equifax just for accuracy. They're free at www.annualcreditreport.com. You're allowed one from each company each year, so you might want to get one of the three every four months just to keep regular tabs on things.
And if, God forbid, your ID is stolen, Frank's books (she wrote several as she straightened out her personal nightmare) are available for as little as $4 used at Amazon.com. I will send you some basic tips as well.
Which has more ridges on its edge: A dime or a quarter?
Answer to Thursday's trivia: On March 21, 1962, Yogi, a California bear, became the first creature to be ejected from a supersonic plane when the Air Force tested a new escape capsule on a B-58 bomber traveling at 870 mph 35,000 feet up. Don't worry, no animals were harmed in this test. Sedated, Yogi hit the ground without a scratch eight minutes later.
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or firstname.lastname@example.org