10 Riskiest Places to Give Your Social Security Number

Here's how to lower the chances of your Social Security number falling into the wrong hands — and what to do if it does.

Image of a lock in front of a Social Security card.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Safeguarding your Social Security number is one of the best ways to prevent identity theft. Not only should you never carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse, in case of loss or theft, but you should rarely give out your Social Security number anywhere. The more places that have your Social Security number, the more at risk it is of falling into the wrong hands. 

In fact, several of the riskiest places to give out your Social Security number might even surprise you. 

Riskiest places to give your Social Security number

1. Universities and colleges

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2. Banking and financial institutions

3. Hospitals

4. State governments

5. Local government

6. Federal government

7. Medical businesses (Companies that concentrate on services and products for the medical field, such as distributors of diabetes or dialysis supplies, medical billing services, or pharmaceutical companies)

8. Non-profit organizations

9. Technology companies

10. Health insurers and medical offices

Who does need your social security number?

"You likely have to provide your Social Security number to your bank or employer but be wary of providing it to anyone else," Ian Bednowitz, general manager for Identity and Privacy at Lifelock shares with Kiplinger. "For instance, if your dentist or doctor asks it on an intake form or when you are registering, don't automatically share it." This also applies to lawyers, financial advisors and crypto exchanges.

He recommends asking exactly why someone needs your SSN, and if they can use another way to verify your identity instead, like a driver's license number or your insurance card. And if employers and government agencies do have a good reason to ask for it, verify how they will protect your information.

"It’s obvious there is no slam-dunk 100% way to protect yourself," Adam Levin, chairman and co-founder of CyberScout (formerly Identity Theft 911) tells us. "Everywhere you turn, you’re going to run into an organization looking for information from you."

How to stop your SSN from getting stolen

Bednowitz and Levin both share with Kiplinger several ways you can prevent your SSN from falling into the wrong hands.

Don’t be so quick to give out your number: As mentioned above, a lot of organizations and companies will ask for your Social Security number. But that doesn’t mean they all have to have it. You will be required to provide your Social Security number in any situation that requires your identity to be verified (such as an application for credit or a license) or about which the IRS must be notified. 

In any other case, be sure to ask whether the agency, business or organization has to have it. Unfortunately, even though many groups — such as private insurers — can’t require your Social Security number, they might refuse to do business with you if you don’t provide it. In those cases, ask if you can give just the last four numbers rather than your full Social Security number.

Don’t ever give out your Social Security number or any other personal information to someone you don’t know who initiates contact with you by phone, e-mail or in person: For example, if you receive an e-mail that claims that you must provide personal information to claim a refund from the IRS, it’s a scam. The IRS doesn’t request information from taxpayers by e-mail. 

"Avoid sharing your number with any organization unless you have initiated contact and are completely confident you are speaking to them," shares Bednowitz. "That means if anyone contacts you via phone, text or email claiming to be from the IRS, DMV or other government office or a doctor, dentist, financial advisor, etc., politely tell them you will call them back to provide it."

Lock away your Social Security card: Your Social Security card belongs in a fireproof safe in your home, not in your wallet. Why? Because if someone stole your wallet, he’d be able to steal your identity, too. And don’t leave your card or any other personal information sitting out where others can see it. Levin says this is a big problem at universities, where students leave wallets, credit-card statements and other items with personal information that can easily be stolen. Plus, its important to shred any documents with your personal information once you no longer need them.

Protect your number from cyber thieves: Even though there’s not much you can do to protect your personal information once you hand it over to another business or organization, you can take steps to protect the data on your computer. It can be helpful to install antivirus and Internet security software on your computer — and update it frequently. 

"Identity theft protection services can include features such as monitoring your credit reports, alerting you when new accounts are opened in your name, or when banks, credit card companies, or other financial services providers check your credit," says Bednowitz. 

Levin also says you should frequently change passwords for your online accounts and not use the same passwords for financial accounts and social networks.

Control the damage: Even if you take all these steps, there still is a chance that you will become a victim of identity theft. That’s why it’s imperative to check your accounts daily to catch any transactions you didn’t make. “If you have time to check e-mail and a social networking site, you can find time to check your bank and credit-card accounts,” Levin says. 

Take advantage of the free weekly credit report you're entitled to once a year from each of the three credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Go to www.annualcreditreport.com to get your reports. 

And if you notice any problems, act quickly to repair the damage. You can contact the credit bureaus and ask them to put a fraud alert or credit freeze on your accounts. A fraud alert, which is free, requires lenders to make some effort to verify your identity before issuing new credit in your name. A credit (or security) freeze prevents the credit reporting companies from releasing your report without your consent. The credit bureaus charge a fee to initiate a freeze, but you might not have to pay if you're a resident of a state that waives the fee for identity theft victims.

If your wallet (with your Social Security card or any credit cards inside it) is stolen, report it to the police. With a police report, you can place an extended fraud alert, which lasts seven years, on your credit report, and you'll have documentation that will help you bolster your case if you become a victim of identity theft.

See the Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft page for information about what you can do if your identity has been stolen.

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Cameron Huddleston
Former Online Editor, Kiplinger.com

Award-winning journalist, speaker, family finance expert, and author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk.

Cameron Huddleston wrote the daily "Kip Tips" column for Kiplinger.com. She joined Kiplinger in 2001 after graduating from American University with an MA in economic journalism.

With contributions from