Chances are good that in the coming year, you will be asked to provide your or a family member’s Social Security number (SSN) at least a few times. And because of all you’ve heard about identity theft and all the advice like “never give out your Social,” you will hesitate, ask why the person needs it and be told, “I don’t know why we need it, but I can’t move forward with your application/registration unless you provide it.” So what do you do? Your kid is sick, he needs meds, and the doctor’s admin can’t help you unless you cough up a SSN. If you want service, then you have to give it up. Otherwise, you have to figure out other options, which often means putting your tail between your legs and giving up your SSN.
- Giving out your SSN: Schools want it, the doctor’s or dentist’s office asks for it, your insurance company needs it, and maybe even your kids soccer coach wants it. What happens when the clerk you gave your SSN to develops herself a little crack cocaine habit? She sees an opportunity to feed her habit and then uses your kid’s SSN to open a new credit card account. Nice.
- Hacker data breach: Criminal hackers looking for your SSN are looking at your doctor, your school and even your bank. Once they find a vulnerability in those networks, they might sell your SSN on the black market for thieves to open new mobile phone accounts in your name.
- Insider identity theft: Employees with access to company databases have been known to download thousands and even millions of records onto a single thumb drive. Once accessed, the opening of new accounts begins.
- Tax fraud: Taxpayers usually receive everything they need from their employers by the beginning of February. Sometimes those records contain your SSN, and they may be intercepted in the mail; other times, they might be accessed via your trash or even in your home. Once in the hands of a thief, the bad guy files your taxes before you do and gets your refund. File early to beat the thieves.
- Account takeover: Your bank account and various other existing accounts require your SSN as a primary identifier to establish credit. The last four digits of your SSN are also used as an authenticator when you call to make changes or get a new card issued. Bad guys get your SSN and socially engineer customer service to drain your accounts.
In most cases, identity theft protection and a credit freeze will insulate you from the first three instances, in which new accounts are opened in your name. To avoid tax fraud, file early. In the event of an account takeover, simply pay close attention to your accounts and refute unauthorized transactions ASAP.