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Identity Documents FAQ

Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about various types of identity documents (also known as vital records), including how those documents can be used in identity theft.

Birth & Death Records

How are birth certificates used as proofs of identity?

Birth certificates provide a ton of personally identifying information about you; as such, many government agencies request these documents as proof of identity.

For example, your state's department of motor vehicles might require a certified copy of your birth certificate before you can apply for, renew, or change your name on various documents including a driver's license or identification card and vehicle registration.

Similarly, you'll likely need a certified copy of your birth certificate when you apply for a passport or to obtain a Social Security card.

Should I keep my birth certificate secure?

Absolutely. Your birth certificate contains vital information about your personal identity, and because so many government agencies require these documents as identity proof, an identity thief could try to use your birth certificate to apply for government documents such as driver licenses and passports.

Perhaps the best ways to protect your birth certificate (especially if it's a certified copy) is to secure it in a safe deposit box at a bank or a personal safe or lock box in your home.

Can someone else obtain my birth certificate?

It's not unlikely that you might need to order a copy of your spouse's, child's, or even parent's birth certificate at some point (or they might need to order a copy of yours).

Generally, the requirements to obtain someone else's birth certificate vary by agency, but it can be done (after all, birth records are considered public records)—in some cases, even online.

Still, you can expect those requirements to be stringent and based on location.

For example, some states require the person ordering the birth certificate to be either:

  • Somehow mentioned on the birth record, such as record subject or their parents.
  • A legal representative.
  • Someone seeking legal information about personal or property rights.

While your birth certificate provides a wealth of personal information about you (and is therefore still somewhat effective for identity thieves), there is some sense of peace in knowing most agencies require certified copies of birth certificates before a person can apply for other documents such as driver licenses.

What should I do with a loved one's death certificate?

Like birth certificates, death certificates provide a lot of—if not more—personal information that can lead to identity theft in the wrong person's hands. Furthermore, family members generally need more than one copy of the deceased's death record for various reporting purposes (i.e. several different companies, agencies, and the such will require a certified copy for proof of the death).

Thus, keeping a death record (or, however many copies you have) in a safe deposit box or a secure home safe or lock box is a wise idea.

Who can access death records?

Similar to birth certificates, death certificates are public record and generally can be accessed by the general public; however, the information the general public sees varies by location (or state).

For example, one state might provide a copy or image of the vital record itself, while another might show only general data.

It also varies whether or not the death record is a certified copy.

Whenever you're concerned about death record information to which the public has access, contact your state's vital record department for the policy on public records.

Should I report a lost or stolen birth or death certificate?

Yes. You can do so by contacting the bureau of vital statistics for the state in which the certificate was issued. By doing this, you've made it “officially" known the certificate was stolen.

You also might consider filing a report with the police, just to cover your bases.

Once you've reported the stolen record, it's time to keep tabs on other personal accounts such as your credit report and bank statements to make sure no new credit accounts or charges have occurred in your name.

How do I replace birth or death records?

You'll need to contact the official vital records department for the state in which the record was issued.

Naturally, the replacement process varies by state, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides a complete list of contact information for each state.

Marriage & Divorce Records

How is my marriage certificate proof of identity?

Various agencies require marriage certificates as proof of identity for transactions such as applying for any document that requires a name change (e.g. new driver's license, Social Security card, or passport).

Because driving- and motor vehicle-related requirements vary by state, whenever you apply for or renew your driver's license, identification card, or registration and your name has changed, contact your motor vehicle agency for each piece of identification documents you must present.

When is my divorce record considered an identity document?

Similar to marriage certificates, divorce records often act as identity documents whenever your name has changed and you need to apply for a new document or renew an existing one (e.g., a driver's license, Social Security card, passport, etc.).

As mentioned above, always contact the governing agency for the exact identification documents you'll need.

Should I report a lost or stolen marriage or divorce record?

The state where you were married might have a policy for reporting lost or stolen marriage and divorce records. Because these records do contain personally identifying information (and can be used to apply for other types of personal documents), it's best to play it safe and contact the courthouse in the county and state in which you were married.

Also, consider filing a police report both where you live and where you were married (if they are different).

How do I replace marriage or divorce records?

The official vital records department for the state in which the record was issued can help you there.

The replacement process varies by state, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides a complete list of contact information for each state.

Social Security Cards

How do I report a stolen Social Security card?

The SSA recommends immediately filing a report with your local police department.

As for identity theft concerns, the SSA points to reporting the stolen card and potential identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), an agency which handles identity theft complaints (and their specific natures). Refer to the FTC's identity theft website to begin the process.

How do I replace my Social Security card?

You can apply for a new card at your local SSA; in some instances, you can even apply online.

Visit the SSA's guide to new or replacement cards for details specific to your situation.

U.S. Passports

How do I report a stolen passport?

Authorities recommend reporting your lost or stolen passport immediately to help prevent identity fraud.

Fortunately, you can quickly report your stolen passport online; simply visit the U.S. Department of State's lost or stolen passports web page.

Of course, it's also a good idea to file a police report.

How do I replace a passport?

Using the Department of State's lost or stolen passports portal, you can find information about replacing your passport in person, online, or by phone.

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