One of the great things about living in the modern age is being able to do so many things online. If you’re reading this, it’s thanks to the power of the internet! However, technology also gives thieves and other bad actors a different way to go after your information. It’s a sad but true fact that it’s more important than ever to take steps to protect your Social Security number—and your identity—online.
The first thing to know is that not everyone who asks for your SSN will actually need it. The exceptions to this rule of thumb include financial institutions like banks and lenders, employers, and state departments.
With that in mind, these are the most essential tips you need to remember in order to keep your identity safe.
As mentioned above, not every business who asks for your SSN needs it. Ask if you can use another form of ID like a driver’s license or passport.
You may encounter a situation where you need to scan your driver’s license onto your phone or computer. This won’t happen with your Social Security card. Don’t scan it—knowing the number is enough.
It’s really tempting to use an easy password you won’t forget. We’ve all done it! Avoid using your SSN though, as hackers can steal and decrypt passwords from even the biggest companies. Instead, use passwords that are a mix of numbers, symbols, and upper/lowercase letters.
If a business does require you to provide your SSN, ask why they need it, who they’ll share it with, and how they’ll store it. You can also ask whether they’ll cover liability or loss if your information is stolen or otherwise compromised.
If you receive a call from “the IRS” don’t panic. The IRS does not call people to let them know about unpaid taxes. If the IRS wants to contact you, you will receive a physical piece of mail. Do not give your SSN to someone you don’t know or callers from “the IRS.”
Pay close attention to your bank accounts and credit card balances. This is one of the easiest ways to make sure your identity is still safe. Plus, many banks offer alerts to let you know if something is amiss.
Under no circumstances should you ever send your SSN over email or instant message. Even if you’re sending it to someone trustworthy, identity thieves are tricky. They can intercept your emails and read your info.
The bottom line is to be very careful with who you give your SSN to. If you’re going to give it over the internet, make sure it’s through a portal you can trust, like government institutions, your bank, or your employer.