The first official Social Security number (055-09-0001) was issued to John Sweeney, of Westchester County, N.Y., in November of 1936. Since then, under what we know now as the Social Security Act, the Social Security Administration has issued more than 450 million cards and says it has about 1 billion number combinations left, or enough to last several generations without reusing or changing the number of digits.

That leaves the victims of identity theft in good stead since Sweeney’s day. Javelin Strategy found that 16.7 million Americans were targets of identity theft in 2017, a record high. And for the first time, more Social Security numbers were stolen than credit cards.

Social Security and Medicare

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services began mailing the country’s 62 million Social Security beneficiaries new Medicare cards in April of 2018 — the Social Security number on the front has been replaced with a unique set of numbers and letters.

But theoretically, one in four Social Security cardholders were the targets of 2017’s identity thieves, who use the numbers to open fraudulent credit card accounts, confiscate benefits payments, provide false information to the Internal Revenue Service, and otherwise cause substantial interference in a victim’s life.

Social Security Number Changes

So, can you change your Social Security number after identity theft? Upon certain proofs, the Social Security Administration may assign a new number, but this may not solve much, as businesses and some government agencies (along with all credit reporting companies) identify records through original Social Security numbers.

If the applicant believes his number is being used illegally, he is advised to contact the Social Security Administration’s fraud hotline at 1-800-269-0271 and record the dates he made the calls or sent letters. He also may apply for a new number for free. The application and information about supporting documents are available online.

The completed application cannot be sent online — the applicant must sign it and deliver or hand-mail it to a Social Security office. Applicants are limited to three card reissues a year and ten during the applicant’s lifetime.

How to Protect Your Social Security Number

The most important deterrent to identity theft through Social Security is the beneficiary himself. The simplest means of protection involves leaving the card at home. Meanwhile, the beneficiary should keep a close watch on bank and credit card balances and consider subscribing to an identity protection service.

Beneficiaries are also encouraged to shred documents containing the number and never, ever relinquish the number to anyone who doesn’t need it. Since the majority of e-mails can be intercepted, it’s imperative that the beneficiary never displays the number electronically.

To find a nearby administration office with further questions pertaining to can you change your Social Security number after identity theft, call 1-800-772-1213 or see the Social Security office locator online. The new card will be mailed in 10 to 14 days from the date the administration receives the application.