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When should I give out my social security number?

You should avoid giving out your social security number unless you are convinced it’s required or is to your benefit.  Once commonly used as a unique identifier for businesses, the rise in identity theft and data breaches make it important for you to carefully protect your social security number.  When you do give it out, make sure you know you are dealing with and why they need it, especially over the phone or the Internet.  

Here are some places you will have to give out your social security number:
**With some government agencies, including tax authorities, welfare offices and state Departments of Motor Vehicles
**With your employers, banks, schools, credit bureaus and credit card companies  

You are not legally required to provide your social security number to most other government agencies or private businesses, including private health care providers and insurers, though you probably will still need to in many cases.  Unfortunately, a business can refuse to provide you with service if you refuse to give your social security number.  If a business asks you for your social security number and you do not see a reason to give it, ask them to make an exception and propose an alternative, such as your driver’s license number.  

It is essential you are very careful on the phone and the Web.  If someone called you and is asking for your social security number, you have to be sure it’s really someone from the organization you think it is.  You might want to call them back to be sure.  

On the Internet, again carefully consider whether they really need it and if you decide to provide it, make sure you have a secure connection and are at the right Web site.  To learn how to stay safe online see,  “How does Internet security work?” or click on the “internet security” tag.  

For more information, visit the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse  website (http://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs10-ssn.htm#9).
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