When is It OK to Give out Your Social Security Number?

How many times have you walked into a store or signed up for a service over the phone, only to have the representative ask you for your Social Security number in order to complete the application or process?

You should be very careful about giving out your SSN. Your nine-digit Social Security number is a critical component to an identity criminal. At the most, a fraudster would be able to access your existing accounts, but the most damaging type of ID crime, which involves opening new accounts under your name, would not be possible with your SSN. Without your Social Security, criminals are fairly well limited in what they can do.

Here's a breakdown of when you should and should not give out your Social Security Number:

When it's OK:

  • Opening a bank account
  • Providing to your employer for reporting
  • Applying for an extension of credit
  • Acquiring a driver's license

When you should think twice, or ask questions:

  • When you sign up for a new doctor
  • Signing up for a utility
  • Applying for an apartment

Certain government agencies are authorized to request your SSN, but they are required to disclose to you how they will use it.

When it's NOT OK:

  • An unsolicited sales call (don't trust caller ID, it can be spoofed)
  • Any email or mail that requests it to verify your identity
  • Any website that requests it to complete a purchase

Everybody asks for it, but few need to have it. Everyone from employers to utility providers will request your Social Security number, or SSN. Only certain entities can legally require you to provide your SSN, while others simply can refuse service if you don't disclose it. Then there are situations in which you never want to reveal your nine-digit identifier.

Be stingy about giving it out.

"Essentially the Social Security number is the No. 1 key to identity theft. Without a Social Security number, fraudsters are going to be quite limited in what they can do," says Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. Fraudsters can still access existing accounts, he explains, but it will be hard for them to open new accounts without it.

Learn when you need to disclose your SSN and how you can avoid giving out too much personal information by heeding some simple guidelines.

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