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Ask The Experts: Knowing When to Give Out Your Social Security Number

Are there ANY instances when I should give someone my social security number? Even when the bank asks me for the last 4 digits I get skeptical. Am I just paranoid? –Joel, CA

I can’t blame you for being paranoid. Protecting your social security is a never ending battle. Unfortunately there is still a lot of confusion as to who should be asking for your social security number. Each state has their own laws and the federal government also has chimed in as well. The Patriot Act does require all financial institutions to verify a persons identity and generally this includes asking for your social security number. In addition, the IRS requires organizations that are paying out funds to you to obtain your social security number as well.

My best suggestion is this: when an organization asks for your social security number, ask them what they need it for. If you don’t agree with their reasons, ask to speak with a manager to see if there is something else you can do instead. If they are still not willing to budge and you are still not convinced as to why they need it, simply make up a number. Of course this suggestion comes with no legal guarantees and you should use at your own risk but I have found that often just giving a made up number works very well. Of course if you go this route, make sure you can remember the number as they may ask for it again in the future as a form of verification.

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As to your concern about giving the last four numbers of your social when you call the bank for verification, this is pretty typical and you should feel relatively comfortable giving it. That said, you can always make the organization you are speaking with prove who they are first by asking them to give you the last few digits of your account or some other piece of information that they could only know if they already had your info.

Jim Stickley is an On The Money contributor, CTO at TraceSecurity Inc and author of

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The Truth About Identity Theft. A renowned security expert, he has been involved in thousands of security services for corporations worldwide. You can contact Jim at jim@stickleyonsecurity.com.