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Starting your life over after domestic violence is not a simple task. If your abuser isn’t behind bars, many survivors want to take every precaution to stay safe, which often means changing parts of their life—such as their address or their name—so that the abuser cannot track them. But, should changing your social security number be a part of those changes?
It’s important for a survivor who is considering changing his or her social security number to first talk to an attorney, if possible, or a domestic violence advocate. While this change does have some benefits, says social security attorney Amy Foster of the Foster Law Firm in Arizona, it’s not necessarily a simple or pain-free process.
“Changing your social security number helps with financial abuse because [your abuser] can't get credit cards and credit without the right social security number,” says Foster. She advises survivors to put alerts on his or her credit so they’re alerted anytime someone tries to open an account with their social security number.
However, know that, in terms of hiding, a new social security number won’t be a foolproof solution. “If you have a common name, this works, but you still have a birthday that your abuser can use [to locate you],” says Foster. “If you have an unique name, then this doesn’t do much good unless you change your name as well.”
Also note that the process for changing a social security number can bring with it its own stress. Explains Foster, “You need to file a form SS-5 with evidence of your citizenship and why you need to change your number.” She says that abuse, harassment or endangerment are listed as valid reasons by the Social Security Administration to warrant a new social security. “If the victim has a police report or restraining order, it should be brought to the social security office as proof.”
Going forward, you’ll still need to keep both social security numbers handy. “Often, for employment, you have to give both social security numbers so your employer can do a background check on you. He or she will also have to list it when filing for disability or retirement.” Despite this, Foster says this is still a step survivors should consider. “The inconvenience will be worth it if the victim can get away from the abuser.”
To apply for a new social security number (from the Social Security Administration):
1. Apply in person at any Social Security office.
2. Take evidence of your age, identity and U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status.
3. If you have changed your name as the Department of Justice recommends, take evidence identifying you by both your old and new names.
4. If new SSNs are being requested for children, take evidence showing you have custody.
5. Take any evidence you may have documenting the harassment or abuse. The Social Security Administration will assist you in obtaining any additional corroborating evidence, if needed. The best evidence comes from third parties, such as police, medical facilities or doctors and describes the nature and extent of the domestic violence. Other evidence might include restraining orders, letters from shelters, letters from family members, friends, counselors or others with knowledge of the domestic violence.
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