6 Times It's Dangerous to Share Your Social Security Number (And 6 Times It's OK)

Be careful: Your Social Security can be used against you if it falls into the wrong hands.

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Updated July 18, 2024
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Your Social Security number offers an important way to prove your identity when you accept a new job offer or file a tax return. But the number is also a great tool for scammers.

Crooks can use your Social Security number to ruin your financial fitness by opening lines of credit without your knowledge, stealing your identity, or getting access to private information.

Here are some instances where you should — and shouldn’t — give someone your number.

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DO: When your banker requests it

goodluz/Adobe woman in banker's office

Banks use your Social Security number for a variety of reasons, such as reporting transactions for tax purposes to the government or reviewing your financial information for a loan or other transaction.

They will almost certainly ask for your Social Security number when you open a new bank account, for instance.

You can give bankers your Social Security number in these situations as long as you are careful. Confirm that the banker who is asking for your number is connected to the bank.

DO NOT: When someone calls you and requests it

terovesalainen/Adobe phone call from unknown number

Scammers may call you and pretend they are from a financial institution or another official-sounding office so they can ask for your Social Security number.

Don’t give your number to someone who calls you and requests it over the phone. Chances are good that such a request is tied to a scam.

DO: When your new employer requests it

Antonioguillem/Adobe businesspeople handshaking after deal

You may be asked to provide your Social Security number and even your Social Security card as part of the onboarding process for a new job.

Companies need to report your employment to the federal government for tax purposes. They also want to make sure you can legally work in the country.

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DO NOT: On a job application

rukxstockphoto/Adobe job application form isolated

You should only give an employer your Social Security information when it’s requested as part of the paperwork process for your employment.

Don’t include your number on your resume or job application before you are hired. Doing so is not necessary and you don’t want that number falling into the wrong hands.

DO: When you apply for a loan or line of credit

88 studio/Adobe Man helping with documents

If you apply for a loan or line of credit, it is virtually certain that you will be asked to reveal your Social Security number.

The lender needs to know your credit standing before deciding whether to issue you the loan or line of credit, and they will need the number as part of the process.

DO NOT: When someone requests it via email or another electronic format

tippapatt/Adobe network security concept

You should be just as wary of someone requesting your Social Security number through email, text, or another form of electronic communication as you would if someone called you for that information.

Not only can such requests be used to scam you, but email messages can be intercepted or hacked.

DO: When you are making a cash transaction of more than $10,000

Jess_Ivanova/Adobe money exchange concept

Businesses involved in a cash transaction of more than $10,000 must report it to the government.

So, if you are part of such a transaction, you will need to provide your Social Security number.

DO NOT: When you register a child for school

arrowsmith2/Adobe student doing test or exam

Schools often require you to fill out paperwork when you enroll a child as a student. You might have to provide proof of vaccination for the child or records that show that you reside within a public school district’s boundaries.

But schools shouldn’t ask for your Social Security number as part of this process.

DO: When you deal with the federal government

JJ Gouin/Adobe form 4868 automatic filing extension

The federal government requires you to furnish your Social Security number in many instances, such as when you file a tax return or enroll in Medicare coverage.

Just be careful, because this is fertile ground for scammers. They might contact you and pretend to be representatives of federal agencies.

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DO NOT: When someone tries to pressure you to do so

Carlos/Adobe mature woman distrusting phone call

Scammers may yell at you, give you a time limit, or use other types of pressure to catch you off guard and make you cough up your Social Security number.

Don’t give your number to anyone who is pressuring you to hand it over. Instead, break off contact with them. Give yourself time to think about why they would need your number. When someone pressures you, it’s a surefire sign of a scam.

DO: When you check your credit report

REDPIXEL/Adobe credit score report

The three major credit-reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — all allow you to check your credit report for free weekly. But to do so, you will need to provide your Social Security number.

At minimum, you should check your report annually to make sure everything is correct and to request a fix of any information that is wrong. Checking your report can also help you see if scammers are using your number illegally to open credit accounts in your name.

DO NOT: When some businesses ask for it

Gorodenkoff/Adobe customers paying at cashier

Businesses such as banks and other financial institutions may need your Social Security number for tax purposes or to check your credit. You also might need to provide your number when you are applying for top rewards credit cards and other forms of plastic.

But that doesn’t mean you should reveal the number to every business.

Don’t reveal your Social Security number to places such as grocery stores, gyms, or other businesses. Instead, politely refuse to give them the number.

If they insist, decline to complete the application or contract and take your business to a less nosy competitor.

Bottom line

Cinemato/Adobe you got scammed word

Your Social Security number is an important piece of information that could hurt you if it falls into the wrong hands.

Remember that there are times you need to reveal this number, such as when you’re applying for a loan or starting a new job. However, exercising caution about when to give out your Social Security number can help you avoid making mistakes that could hurt you financially.

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Jenny Cohen

Jenny Cohen is a freelance writer who has covered a bit of everything, from finance to sports to her favorite TV shows. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and FoxSports.com.