Your Social Security card contains an important piece of personally identifiable information — your Social Security number. If your card falls into the wrong hands, you may be at risk of identity theft. The good news is that by reporting the loss and requesting a replacement, you can limit the damage that losing your Social Security card may cause.

If you lose your Social Security card, you may be at risk of losing money you’ve earned, your Social Security benefits may be depleted, plus debt could accumulate in your name.

It's important to know what to do, so you can act quickly in the event of a loss. But first, it helps to understand the basics of Social Security.

What is Social Security? 

Social Security is a system established by the federal government to offer benefits to U.S. citizens.

When you start earning income and paying taxes, you'll be paying into these benefits through federal taxes so you can eventually access funds in the event of retirement or disability. 

Social Security benefits

There are a number of benefits associated with Social Security, including:

  • Retirement benefits: These pooled funds will often be modest, but will help prevent debt after employment

  • Disability benefits: If you ever face a condition that leaves you unable to work, you could qualify for disability benefits

  • Survivors benefits: If a family breadwinner were to pass away, these benefits would support their family by helping to replace the lost income 

How Social Security cards work

When you enroll in the Social Security system, you will be assigned a nine-digit number that will be used to track your accumulated wages and allow you to access your benefits. This nine-digit number will be marked on a card for you to keep (known as your Social Security card).

The federal government provides Social Security cards for:

  • U.S. citizens

  • Permanent residents

  • International, or non-U.S. citizens, employed in the U.S.

Unless it's absolutely necessary to provide it, you should not carry your card or any other document that displays your Social Security number, according to the Social Security Administration (SSA).

So rather than keeping these valuable documents in your wallet or purse (which are more vulnerable to theft), keep them in a secure place like a safe deposit box. 

When you need to use Social Security cards

Your Social Security card will be your reference for your Social Security number (SSN).

It's unlikely that you'll need to present your Social Security card very often. Some employers may require you to show your card, but most can accept your SSN.

While you want to limit who you share your information with, your employers are among the small selection of people who will need your Social Security number. This way, you can accumulate your Social Security benefits while working for them.

If a citizen or other person in the Social Security system has passed away, their Social Security information will need to be shared with the funeral director in most cases. The director will then pass the information to the SSA. You can also report a death directly to your local Social Security office.

Reporting this is important since criminals could still use a loved one's personal information to commit fraud after they pass away.

What happens if you lose your Social Security card

Without your Social Security number and your Social Security card as physical proof, you might be unable to secure employment or collect benefits.

A lost or stolen card could also leave you at risk of identity theft. If an identity thief gets a hold of your SSN, they could fraudulently collect your accumulated retirement benefits, file for disability benefits in your name, or report your death so they can collect your life benefits as a false dependent.

In addition, they could open bank accounts, accumulate credit card debt and ruin your credit score, or steal your tax refunds by filing them using your information.

I lost my Social Security card, now what? 

Wondering what to do if you lose your Social Security card?

First, remain calm and know that there are things you can do to limit the potential harm it may bring. You should contact your local law enforcement and the Social Security Administration immediately to report possible theft.

Then, begin applying for your replacement card right away. This can be done for free through the SSA website.

When you apply for your replacement Social Security card online or in person, you will need an identification card or document that indicates your U.S. citizenship and identity. These could include:

  • U.S. passport

  • U.S. driver’s license 

  • Government-issued ID card 

If these identification cards or documents have also been stolen, you can use other forms of identification such as documents from your employer, your school institution, your health insurance ID, or details offered by your healthcare provider. 

I lost my Social Security card and birth certificate, what do I do?

Social Security offices will need to prove your age to issue a replacement card. If you do not have a birth certificate available, you may be able to prove your age with a U.S. passport, U.S. hospital records with your birth date, or a religious record made before the age of five showing your date of birth.

Remember that you will need to present the original issued documents, not photocopies or photos of the documents. 

How to prevent losing your Social Security card

To avoid the risk of losing your Social Security card, you need to keep it safely stored, so it’s harder for the wrong person to access it.

Here are some other tips you should follow:

  • Memorize your Social Security number so you won’t need to carry your card with you

  • Be wary of who you share your information with, and when you’re asked to share your Social Security card or number, question if it’s really necessary 

  • Be careful when disposing of documents with your Social Security information on them, like your credit reports or tax information

While the precautions we've discussed can help you keep your Social Security card safe, one of the most effective things you can do to protect your sensitive personal information is to rely on comprehensive identity protection.

Allstate Identity Protection provides proprietary monitoring tools that can offer additional peace of mind. We'll alert you to activity as soon as it’s detected, and if we discover fraud, our experts will work around the clock to fully restore your identity, so you can keep your Social Security benefits your own.