To help you steer clear of these open risks, here is some helpful advice you will need to acquaint yourself with. First we start with a list of 5 places you should not give your SSN, and then we’ll show you how to avoid giving your SSN when it's requested by an official sounding person.
The Security Risks of an Exposed SSN
It hardly seems a month goes by without some new hacking story involving the private details of public and private people being exposed. Even the CIA and FBI have been hacked in the past, so that shows that really your data is not safe with anyone. Hilary Clinton, Michelle Obama and Joe Biden have had their SSNs posted online without their knowledge. It goes to show, that if your SSN is on a computer somewhere, it is only a matter of time before it becomes exposed.
But why is your SSN so valuable to criminals? In America, social security numbers have become de facto personal identifiers, but without any attendant photos or security. Anyone using your number can claim to be you. If someone can acquire your SSN they are also able to access your credit accounts and start new ones; purchase houses and cars. They can rack up medical bills for you to pay and even commit crimes using your name.
These risks amount to a systematic, Orwellian nightmare, with your identity, credit and reputation becoming vulnerable. Reports from the Javelin Strategy & Research estimate that those whose SSN has been exposed are more than five times as likely to become victims of fraud than otherwise.
Learn to Say No
The best thing you can do is also the easiest: say no. So when anyone asks for your SSN, simply refuse.
1. A caller or emailer
Security expert Adam Levin advises that we should only provide our SSN if we are in the control of the interaction. That means instead of responding directly to a call, email or text message, contact the company using official means. Find their phone number on your bank card, if it’s related to your account, and ask for the security department. Otherwise you could be responding to a deliberate scam.
2. Public schools
They simply do not need your SSN. If they want address confirmation, provide them with a utility bill. If they want to contact you, offer your email address and phone number.3. Summer camps (or other child groups)
Unless you are paying for the summer camp with your credit card, there is no need to provide your SSN. Again, if they want to see your child’s birth certificate, show it to them, but don’t leave it with them.
Refuse to give your SSN for a frequent shopper card. These cards are not bank accounts or credit accounts. They are simply a way for the supermarket to track your purchases.
5. A stranger who approaches you on the streets
It could be a charity organization, a phone salesman or a voter registration drive, but it doesn’t make a difference. You don’t know anything about them and they can’t be trusted in this world of computer hacking anyway. Deny them your SSN.
What to do when requested
1. Ask yourself, do they actually need it?
Most of the time a company will request your SSN as a matter of procedure. They have always done so, but they don’t really know why. If you challenge them enough they may just realize they don’t need it and move on. For too long people have been compliant when they would have been better advised to question everything. Now is the time to start asking.
On the other hand, some companies may need you SSN. If they are performing a credit check for you, you should expect to have to hand over the number, but they should encrypt the information securely.
2. Offer a different identifier
Rather than simply refusing to comply, negotiate sensibly. Say you have your account number to identify you, or even you driver’s license.
3. Get as many assurances as you can
Perhaps you feel that you will give your SSN to someone if they insist, in which case make double sure that they have good security in place. But even in this situation there is no guarantee that they won’t be hacked.