One of the most effective ways of preventing your identity from being stolen is to not give your Social Security number just because somebody asks for it. Chances are they don’t need it and are not entitled to it anyway.
Your Social Security number is your unique identifier for issuance of federal retirement benefits and a number of other government services; it also identifies you as a taxpayer. Employers, creditors, federal agencies, the military and motor vehicle departments also have legitimate uses for your Social Security number.
Have you noticed that everywhere you go and fill out a form with personal information, from doctor’s offices to fitness facilities, they want your Social Security number? Guess what. You don’t have to give it to them, and you shouldn’t – unless you’re receiving federal money, such as Medicare or Medicaid, to pay for the service.
If you’re paying with cash or credit card or you’re using private insurance, your Social Security number is none of anyone else’s business. Leave the space blank on the forms and the business owner or cashier probably won’t push the issue. If they do, politely explain you do not want to take the chance of having it stolen, and that having your Social Security number can increase their liability in case of a data breach. Offer another form of identification, such as your driver’s license.
Remember, every time you give your Social Security number, it goes into another database that might be vulnerable to theft. As we have seen over and over again, no company or organization is immune to a data breach. The Social Security number gives thieves access to almost unlimited financial information that they otherwise could not get.
Changing of the guard
I have some news to report. After nearly eight months as your consumer watchdog, I have accepted a job at a newspaper in Florida. This will be my last column for the Times Leader. The Times Leader, however, will not abandon you to con artists, crooks and thieves lying in wait. Instead, you will be in the capable hands of Joe Dolinsky, who has worked the Wilkes-Barre City Hall beat for the Times Leader since March and will take over this column immediately. Please keep those emails coming so that Joe can have as much fun as I did serving as your faithful consumer watchdog.
Goodbye — and thank you.
Christine Young is the Times Leader’s Consumer Watchdog. She can be reached at ConsumerWatchdog@timesleader.com. Her column appears weekly.