Of all the types of personal information that could put you at risk for identity theft when in the wrong hands, your Social Security number is the most vulnerable. As the most unique way the government, doctor's offices and creditors can identity you, your Social Security number is necessary to apply for new credit and other benefits. This is why thieves often target this key piece of information to steal.
With the risk of identity theft high, here are three ways to protect your Social Security number:
1. Leave Your Social Security Card At Home
It is rare that you will need to bring your Social Security card with you. When you don't need your Social Security card, make sure to leave it at home and in a secure location, such as a locked safe. This limits the chance someone could glance at your card or steal your wallet with your personal information.
2. Shred Documents with Your Number
Although you might think throwing your mail away is the last time it'll see the light of day, thieves could steal mail to access your personal information. Instead of simply throwing away mail that displays your Social Security number and other personal details, shred these documents to avoid thieves from seeing this information, according to the U.S. Post Inspection Service. Additionally, always check your mailbox and do not leave mail inside the box for long periods of times, which could give thieves the opportunity to steal your personal documents.
3. Know Who Requires This Information and Who Doesn't
While it is tricky to know when you should give out your Social Security number, it's important to distinguish who requires this information. Cable companies often ask for your Social Security number in order to check your credit and make sure you will be able to pay for their services. However, it is not required for you to give out your information, The Los Angeles Times reported.
You do not have to provide your Social Security card to private businesses in general. However, the businesses may reject your request for its services, according to the U.S. Social Security Administration.
"Businesses, banks, schools, private agencies, etc., are free to request someone's number and use it for any purpose that does not violate a federal or state law," the SSA said.
Despite this, you could offer a different way to identify you to avoid giving them your Social Security number.
Brett Montgomery is a fraud operations manager at CyberScout.