A lot of Americans are making the job of identity thieves easier by disclosing their Social Security numbers whenever they’re asked.
But privacy experts say there’s no reason to engage in this unwise practice, because there are only a few instances when Americans should tell anyone their number.
Social Security numbers were never intended to become a nationwide identification number, but they’ve become that.
The best way to protect yourself from identity theft is to have your personal information in as few places as possible — and to give it to as few people as possible. Keeping data such as your Social Security number, your driver’s license number and your banking and insurance information off of documents will keep it safe.
Who can legally ask for your Social Security number?
Most of the businesses and organizations that ask for your Social Security number don’t need it. Here are several major instances when you should provide your Social Security number:
- When you are hired for a job. The employer will need the number for tax purposes. But you don’t need to give your Social Security number on most job applications. Most employers don’t need your Social Security number until you actually start working.
- When you apply for many kinds of licenses, including driver’s licenses. The government agency issuing the license needs the Social Security number to verify who you are.
- When you have a credit report run. The big three credit bureaus need your Social Security number to verify your identity. This is why some employers ask for Social Security numbers on job applications and why some lenders ask for them on loan applications.
- When you apply for government benefits such as health care, Social Security, Food Stamps, Veterans’ benefits, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.
- When you bank, or when you pay more than $10,000 cash for something, or when you get paid more than $10,000 in cash. The reason for this is that such transactions are to be reported to the Internal Revenue Service.
- When you fill out any sort of tax form.
What you can do to protect your Social Security number
There are a number of steps that you can take to protect your Social Security number from identity thieves. They include:
- Only give your Social Security number out when it is actually required, such as when you fill out a tax form. Simply leave the space for the Social Security number on other documents blank. If somebody makes an issue, ask why they need it.
- Tell businesses that you don’t want to give out your Social Security number. As the Social Security website states, “utility companies and other services ask for a Social Security number, but do not need it; they can do a credit check or identify the person in their records by alternative means.”
- If a potential employer or lender wants a copy of your credit report, provide one yourself. You can get credit reports online.
- Use services and products including Abine’s Delete Me that will remove private data from the web. You can use these services to remove Social Security numbers and other sensitive information left online.
- Be careful with documents that might show your Social Security number, including driver’s licenses, Medicare cards and (of course) Social Security cards.
- Destroy any paperwork that has your Social Security number on it when you no longer need it. Never throw anything that might contain a Social Security number in the trash — because bad guys search trash cans and dumpsters for such documents.
The only person who will protect your Social Security number is you. If you rely on the government or businesses to protect your privacy you’ll make identify thieves very happy.