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Friday, 10 March 2017

Think back to the last time you willingly handed over your Social Security number (SSN).

Was it when you registered your son for his Little League team? Or when you filled out an apartment rental agreement? Or at your most recent doctor's checkup?

Your Social Security number (SSN) is something to be carefully guarded. Those nine digits represent your identity and can reveal where you live, how much money you make, your employment history, medical history, and a lot more. In the wrong hands, criminals can do a lot of damage armed with that number.

Interestingly, SSNs weren't actually designed as personal identifiers. In fact, they were created simply as a way to keep track of a person's earning history for an eventual retirement payout. At its inception in the mid-1930s, Social Security was seen as a savings plan of sorts in which United States citizens were required to contribute.

Today's usage of SSNs has opened doors for identity thieves. When criminals gain access to SSNs, they can do an incredible amount of harm—from taking out credit cards and filing false medical claims to pretending they are someone else and committing crimes in that person's name.

So when is it OK to give out your SSN? Take the following quiz to test your knowledge.

Q: Is it OK to give your SSN to a bank when applying for a loan?
A: Yes. Financial institutions readily use SSNs to check up on a person's credit history, which is an important factor in granting or denying a loan. Just make sure the bank you're using is an accredited institution before going through with the required paperwork.

Q:When is it appropriate to hand over my child's SSN?
A: Almost never. Children are easy prey for identity thieves and as such, parents need to be careful when giving out the SSN of their kiddos. Why are they such easy prey? Because most people do not need to use their SSN until they turn 18 and apply for college or financial aid. Identity thieves that get their hands on a child's SSN can do a significant amount of damage—undetected—before the child turns into an adult. Then, when the child eventually needs to use his or her SSN, they may find their credit ruined.

Some of the rare times it's OK to give out your child's SSN is when applying for government benefits, citizenship, as a dependent on your tax return, or when applying for a savings account for your child. You are not required, under law, to give out that number when registering for public school or sporting team. If, as a parent, you receive pushback, cite the Privacy Act of 1974.

Q: Am I required to give my SSN to my medical insurance company?
A: Yes. Under federal law, medical insurance companies are allowed to ask for your SSN.

Q: Am I required to give my SSN at a doctor's office?
A: No. There is no law that requires you give your SSN at a doctor's office. Try leaving the box blank. If they notice, tell them that you are concerned about identity theft and consider including the phone number to an emergency contact who does know your SSN, just in case the doctor's office needs it later on.

Note: persons on government programs like Medicare and Medicaid are required to give their SSN to doctor's offices. But be careful; ask if you can list just the last four digits of your number.

Q: Should I use my SSN as a unique identifier?
A: No. Never use your SSN as your email password, and make sure it isn't the identifier on your college ID or other form of identification. Guarding it all costs will help you protect against identity thieves.

 

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