Times to Never Give Out Your Social Security Number

zimmytws/shutterstockTo avoid becoming a victim of identity theft, it’s important to take steps to safeguard your personal information. Following credit rating company Equifax’s announcement in September, 2017, that its databases had been hacked, exposing the personal information of an estimated 143 million people (including around half of the U.S. population), you might be wondering if you can do more to protect yourself.

“Security based on information that is difficult or impossible to change makes people more vulnerable, which is why breaches like Equifax are so problematic,” says Drew Paik of security firm Authentic8. “Breaches like those divulge massive amounts of data that cannot be changed. You can’t change your birthday, a former address, or the high school you attended, although many wish they could. It’s the same reason why security based on biometrics is not the best option: You can’t change your fingerprints.”

While you can’t withhold your name or date of birth from applications and purchases requiring personal information, one thing you can withhold is your Social Security number (SSN). Originally created to track income to determine Social Security benefits in retirement, it has become a near-universal form of identification and is often requested whenever you provide personal information.

However, on many occasions, it’s not actually necessary to share your SSN, and the Social Security Administration warns that you should be careful about doing so—even when you’re specifically asked for it. “First, focus on where you have to give your SSN,” advises Ryan Satterfield of Planet Zuta Data Security. “Taxes and insurance are the only things that require SSNs. Then list everywhere you don’t have to give an SSN.”

Here are five times you shouldn’t ever give out your Social Security number—even if you’re asked for it.

At the doctor’s office

Patient forms from your doctor may request your SSN, but it’s…

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