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There’s a corner of the internet, inaccessible by traditional search engines, where stolen personal information can be sold anonymously. A new feature announced this week from Discover aims to shed a little more light into that corner.
Discover says the new service alerts cardholders when their Social Security number appears on certain websites on the so-called "dark web." Here’s how you can take advantage of the feature:
Enroll online. Though Discover offers free FICO scores to everyone, its SSN alerts are exclusive to its cardholders. If you have a Discover card, you can register on Discover’s alert page. Enrolling is free and does not hurt your credit. You'll receive these alerts by email, but can also opt to get them by text messages.
Watch for alerts. Discover keeps tabs on thousands of "risky websites" and alerts you if your Social Security number appears on any of them. Separately, Discover can also alert you when new accounts appear on your Experian credit report, which can help you identify fraud early on.
Getting one of these Social Security number notifications can be a sign that fraud might occur on your accounts, but it's up to you to act. And that doesn't mean channeling Nancy Drew and going after the bad guys yourself.
“You’re going to have to take a defensive posture as a consumer,” says Al Pascual, research director and head of fraud and security at Javelin Strategy & Research. “Put a freeze on your credit. Consider a service that monitors your identity.” If certain service providers, such as phone companies, let you access your account with a Social Security number, see if they can start verifying your identity in a different way, he suggests.
While anyone can request a new Social Security number from the Social Security Administration, it's rare to get such a request approved if you already have one, he adds. And having your number appear on these disreputable websites isn't all that unusual.
“We’ve probably all had our Social Security number compromised at some point,” Pascual says, noting that several websites on this hidden part of the internet carry such data. On such sites, a line including your name, full address, date of birth, Social Security number and other information typically would sell for just $1, according to a 2015 report from Trend Micro, a cybersecurity firm.
Discover is the only major credit card issuer to offer such an alert for free. However, this alert is also available through other third-party programs. If you need help figuring out what to do after getting one of Discover's alerts, the company says you can call its customer service line for guidance.