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Safeguarding Your Social Security

Safeguarding Your Social Security Number

          Computer errors, thieves hacking a breaches, stolen laptops or identity theft rings with ties inside a company are just a few ways your Social Security number can fall into the wrong hands. Armed with your number, an identity thief could use it to file a fraudulent tax return or apply for a mortgage in your name. On a new twist, stolen Social Security numbers have been used illegally to obtain medical care. 

          To make sure this doesn't happen to you, here's a look at strategies for safeguarding your Social Security number:

          Ask why it's necessary and how it will be used. The Social Security Administration website lists 16 situations, in which your Social Security number is legally required, such as filing your taxes or applying for food stamps. Banks, utility companies and doctors' offices ask for your number because they're extending credit to you and want to verify that you are who you say you are. If the case for your Social Security number seems suspect, ask why the person needs it and how it will be used and protected. Leave your social security number off applications for health clubs, video memberships and savings club cards When filling out a form that includes a field for your Social Security number, you can simply leave it blank, and only furnish it if asked and if given a logical reason.

          Offer an alternate identifier. In some cases, alternate identifiers such as your driver's license number or the last four digits of your Social Security number may suffice. If you own a business and have an employer identification number associated with your business, you may be able to use that in lieu of your Social Security number on certain forms.

          Be skeptical of emails and incoming phone calls. Giving out your Social Security number on the phone to a representative of a company you've contacted is one thing. But if you didn't initiate the call, it's possible that you're talking to a scammer. Don't respond to email requests for your Social Security number either because it could be a phishing scam, even if it appears to come from your bank or other legitimate organization.

          Don't over-share online. The Social Security Administration started randomly assigning Social Security numbers in June 2011; before that date numbers were frequently grouped by year of birth which makes it easier for scammers to determine your Social Security number if they know your date of birth.

          Keep your Social Security card in a safe place. Some older people are accustomed to carrying their Social Security cards in their wallets. But if the wallet is lost or stolen, that can create problems. Keep your card in a safe deposit box or another secure location instead.

          Shred when needed - Always shred documents which contain your social security number, such as tax records, social security and unemployment benefits and other records. If these records are maintained at home, store them in a closed storage box and keep in a safe location away from view.

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