As you know, I’m a big fan of consumer advocate Clark Howard, especially because of the excellent information he is able to provide on identity theft. You can check him out at www.clarkhoward.com. I would like to give him credit for much of the information in this article.
Identity theft and your Social Security number (or your SSN) go hand in hand. Criminals can get your credit card numbers and charge items on your individual accounts, but they need your Social Security number to actually steal your identity. That can occur when a criminal obtains your personal information, including your SSN, and opens fraudulent accounts with that information. This can include credit cards and loans.
Howard writes that his rule is not to give out his Social Security number unless it is absolutely required for what he is doing. I have to agree. Businesses ask for your Social Security number all of the time, but their track record on securing your number can be — depending on the industry — pretty bad.
Kiplinger Magazine recently published an article on the 10 worst places to give you Social Security number. Colleges and universities topped the list. Next was the banking industry. But, for the most part, you don’t really have a choice with them because they require your number to open accounts. Even this morning on my way to work, I heard that several of the nation’s largest banks were hit with cyber-attacks last week. According to www.nytimes.com, the cyber-attacks came from Iran.
The next group is hospitals, medical businesses, health insurers and medical offices. They often request your SSN, but Clark says he always leaves that space blank. According to the article, the thinking of these businesses is that if you don’t pay, they can turn you over to a collection agency.
Last on the Kiplinger list is government at all levels and volunteer charity organizations. The article says that these non-profit charity organizations need to run your background, but they vary greatly on securing your Social Security number.
Two things recommended: Freeze your credit and watch where you list your SSN.
Officer Larry Jacobs is the Crime Prevention Officer for the Sandy Springs Police Department. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.