By now, you probably know not to hand over your Social Security number when a Nigerian prince emails you saying you're next in line to the throne, or your long-lost great uncle has millions of dollars he wants to wire to your bank account. Doing so opens you up to a host of identity theft concerns.
However, there are other less obvious times you could be at risk by giving your Social Security number out. You can recover after your SSN is stolen, but it's a hassle that no one wants to deal with. Be wary of the following situations, as they could open you up to Social Security fraud.
An Initial Email From the IRS
The Internal Revenue Service will never initiate contact with you via email to request personal information, so if you get a surprising email demanding your Social Security number or any other sensitive info, don't comply. The IRS won't call you and threaten you with arrest or deportation if you don't provide your Social Security number, either.
Finally, don't enter your Social Security on any website that looks like an IRS site but doesn't begin with "www.irs.gov." Report the sketchy website by forwarding it to email@example.com.
When Incoming Callers Request It
According to AARP, you should never give out your Social Security number over the phone if you didn't initiate the call, as someone could be trying to impersonate a company that legitimately needs your SSN. Also, don't say your number in public — you never know who could be listening.
Before you give out your SSN or your child's SSN to a public school, ask if it is legally required. Sometimes, schools are using it to identify the student, in which case an alternate ID number can be created. That way, you can provide yourself or your child additional identity theft protection.
Most Job Applications
For most job applications, it's legal for a company to request your Social Security number. Giving out this information, however, is just one more source a hacker could potentially steal your number from. To protect yourself, research the employer to make sure the company is legitimate. You can also monitor your credit report and bank statements online after giving your Social Security number to make sure nothing is amiss.
If you are hired or a background check is required, you will need to provide your Social Security number. If you are leery about giving out your number on an application, ask the employer if you can provide it upon receiving an offer.
Medical providers, such as doctors' offices, hospitals and laboratories, often include a line for your Social Security number on their intake forms. However, these institutions sometimes have subpar data security, which can leave your Social Security number vulnerable to security breaches.
You are required to give your Social Security number if you are enrolled in Medicare or if your insurer uses your Social Security number to identify you. Otherwise, you aren't legally required to give it. But, if you don't, the hospital can refuse to serve you.
Jury Duty Phone Call
Don't fall prey to a jury duty scam call. Some identity thieves will call and say that you missed your jury duty summons and there is now a warrant for your arrest. To verify the caller is talking to the "right person," you will be asked for your Social Security number and other identifying information. If you share it, you'll likely need to quickly learn how to report identity theft.
"A green padlock or the word 'Secure' means that your communication with the website you're visiting is encrypted," said Patrick Nohe, content manager at The SSL Store, which offers security solutions. "If you don't see one of those two indicators, never ever enter any personal information."
"If a website doesn't have SSL installed and configured properly, then your connection with that site is not secure and any third party that wants to can eavesdrop on the connection and steal critical information like SSNs, banking data, etc.," Nohe warned.
You are not legally required to give your Social Security number when you are applying for car insurance. However, car insurance companies aren't legally required to do business with you if you refuse to include it on your application, so some might simply reject your application without it.
To protect your identity when applying online, make sure you enter the website rather than clicking a link, and that the website is encrypted.
When the Social Security Administration Emails You
The Social Security Administration will never email you requesting your Social Security number, date of birth or other identifying information. Some scammers might even pose as the Social Security Administration and call you asking for similar information or asking you to go to a website to update your information, when in fact the website is a fake used by thieves to collect personal information.
If you have any doubt about the authenticity of the phone call, hang up and call your local Social Security office or the national line, 1-800-772-1213, so you can verify you are talking to a representative and not a scammer.
If You Lose Your Wallet
There are a few things you should never keep in your wallet, and your Social Security card is one of them. Personal security and identity theft expert Robert Siciliano advised not to carry your Social Security card in your wallet. If your wallet gets stolen, and you carry your Social Security card, you've just given the thief even more information about you.
If you feel the need to have your card on you at all times, Siciliano recommended taking a picture of the card with your phone. "As long as your device is password-protected, you should be fine," he said.
Unverified Medicaid Insurance Callers
"Never give any caller your Medicare card information until you have verified that they are a legitimate insurance agent," cautioned Danielle Kunkle, vice president of Boomer Benefits, an insurance agency that specializes in Medicare and other benefits for older adults. "Seniors get heavily telemarketed for insurance help when turning 65 and cons know this, so they will sometimes pose as insurance agents and get clients on the phone to steal information."
If you're looking for quotes for Medicare insurance products, you don't need to provide your SSN. "Quotes can be provided with a zip code, age, gender and tobacco-user status," Kunkle said. "So if a random caller asks for any personal identifying information beyond that, we advise that beneficiaries ask the caller for the agency that they represent, and to provide a company website and telephone number so that they can research their caller's legitimacy before providing any information."
"Phishing" is the term used to describe emails that try to fraudulently obtain personal information, like your SSN. "Smishing" scams are those orchestrated via text message instead. Never provide your SSN or other private account numbers via text message, and always call your local Social Security office or the national line to determine if the contact is legitimate.
Sharing Sensitive Information With Leased Copiers
If you need to make a copy of your Social Security number, make sure you're not using a copier that is leased and will one day be resold. AARP warns that these machines are often bought by scammers who hope to find sensitive information, like your SSN, in the copier or scanner's hard drives. Stay safe and limit your copying and scanning to your personal devices.
Using Fake Tax Preparers
You're required to include your Social Security number (or other taxpayer ID number) as part of your tax return. As long as that return goes straight to the IRS, you won't have a problem. However, if you intend to use a tax preparer, you must verify the person is an actual professional and not a scammer.
If you fall for a scammer, that person now has access to all of your identifying information — and the identifying information for your spouse and anyone you claim as a dependent. If you're short on money to pay for a professional return preparer, you might qualify for free tax help.
Life Insurance Company Payout Scams
Be particularly wary if you receive a call from a life insurance company asking for your SSN because you are named as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy. While you might be excited that someone left you some cash, don't give the information. Life insurance companies won't contact you to tell you that you are the beneficiary — telling you is up to the person who purchased the life insurance.
Variations on this scheme include telling you that you've been named as a beneficiary even though the person hasn't died yet, or that your life insurance policy has changed and your SSN is needed to verify the changes.
Up Next: 4 Ways to Report Identity Theft