“May I please have your social security number?”
If you’ve ever checked in at the doctor’s office or filled out a job application, chances are you’ve had to provide your social security number. Doing so can put you at risk of identity theft.
We’ve all done it, because we are conditioned to hand it over to just about any professional party that asks: health care facilities, at school or our child’s school, the insurance office, or even when we call our health insurance company or bank.
The social security number has humble beginnings: it was originally devised to help the Social Security Administration (SSA) identify individuals eligible for Social Security benefits.
Since then, it’s morphed into an all-purpose identification number.
The good news? Chances are, if you politely decline to provide your social security number at the doctor’s office, or on the phone with your insurance company, there’s a good chance they can retrieve your information using your birthdate or even your last name and address.
Of course, you’ll need to provide it when filing taxes or filing for unemployment or disability benefits.
There are steps you can take to protect your social security number:
Never carry your social security card in your wallet. Leave it home in a safe place or in a safe deposit box at the bank. Take it out only when you need it, such as when you complete new hire paperwork, file your tax returns, or apply for government benefits.
You will also need it for passport and driver’s license applications as part of verifying your citizenship.
If you are completing a paper job application, leave the social security number field blank. If pressed to provide it, simply state you’ll be glad to furnish it when you are hired.
Online job applications can be tougher, as many of them require that you provide your social security number in order to advance to the next screen. However, employers are becoming more cognizant of security and privacy, and you may have to only disclose the last four digits of your social security number.
Never share your social security number online or on social networks. Never. Same goes for friends; never share your social security number with them.
Never program your social security number into your phone or tablet. If your phone or tablet is ever stolen or hacked, your social security number is there for all to see.
If you can’t memorize your social security number, create a sentence or short paragraph that contains parts of your social security number throughout, and keep it in a place other than your wallet or coin purse.
It only takes a second for your social security number to fall into the wrong hands and to put you at risk for identity theft.
Once you become a victim of identity theft, it can months and sometimes years to clear up your credit report, bank records, tax returns, and other vital records.
What once started out as a humble identification number for the SSA is now an all-purpose identification number. However, protecting your social security number is vital in lowering your risk of identity theft.
No one is ever immune to identity theft, but keeping your social security number under lock and key is one way to make yourself less of a target for identity thieves.