As engaging and informative as it is to surf the web or shop online, it’s no fun when you discover that your personal information may be online in a place frequented by hackers, scammers and other criminals: the dark web.
That’s what happened to a listener of the Clark Howard Podcast.
How Do I Get My Social Security Number Off the Dark Web?
Ingrid from Connecticut asks: “I was notified by Discover that my Social Security number was found on the dark web. I’m freaking out. What should I do?
“My credit has been frozen, so I know that’s good. I’ve not created an account on SocialSecurity.gov as of yet, but now I’m afraid of my credit to do so.”
Clark’s Take on What You Should Do if Your Social Security Number Is on the Dark Web
Clark says this is a big issue that affects an untold number of people. When Clark is out and about, people keep asking him about the notices they’ve been getting from Discover about the dark web.
He describes the dark web as “basically message boards and discussion boards where people buy and sell information on other people for purposes of identity theft or applying for credit or buying things as if they’re someone else.”
The dark web is also a haven for cybercrime communities, according to this cybersecurity guidebook from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Dark Web: How To Protect Yourself
We never like to use the word “impossible,” but unlike information found on Google and other indexed search engines, data on the dark web has no distinct process of removal. There’s no database or online folder you can tap into to wipe your information.
With that said, if you happen to find your Social Security number or other sensitive data on the dark web, here are some steps you can take.
1. Don’t Panic
It’s important that you don’t freak out just because you find out that your information is on the dark web, Clark says.
“At this point, you take the Equifax data breach that affected two-thirds of American adults, whose Social Security numbers are out in the marketplace, and various other breaches that have happened, particularly those in medical environments, and you’ll probably find that most of us are somewhere on the dark web,” Clark says.
“Just know you have a lot of company. Almost all of us are probably on the dark web at this point with our Social Security numbers there.”
2. Change Your Passwords
If you’re unsure how an online account was accessed, it’s a good idea to change it. Clark is a big fan of two-factor authentication, which requires that you verify your identity a second time when signing into your online accounts.
You can also choose to use a password manager, which is a great way to create strong credentials that help keep your login information safe.
3. Create a Social Security Account Online
Clark says relatively few people have created Social Security accounts online, but doing so makes sense. (Note that if your credit is already frozen you’ll have to temporarily thaw it to create an account.)
“Set up a My Social Security account — that would be a good idea because you want to monitor to make sure that your work credits are being posted properly each year, because that’s the only way you can make sure you get the Social Security benefits you’re supposed to receive later,” Clark says.
Go to the Social Security Administration’s official website, ssa.gov/myaccount to create an account.
4. Freeze Your Credit
Clark is a big proponent of freezing your credit, which will prevent anyone from opening a credit account in your name. Clark commended the listener for having already frozen her credit.
Here’s how to freeze your credit with the three major credit bureaus.
Clark wants you to stay safe online and that means you should be cautious about using unfamiliar websites. Crooks are working hard to commit identity theft or get access to your bank account.
Want more cybersecurity tips about shopping online? Read our in-depth guide on how to stop a fake website.