Here’s a way to keep your identity—and that of your loved ones—secure: Don’t give out your Social Security number unless it’s absolutely required.

Most of the time, it’s OK to say no to schools, doctor’s offices and many other organizations asking for this nine-digit identifier. In fact, safeguarding your Social Security number is a key step to protecting against identity theft and other fraud.

More than 15 million people fall victim to identity theft and fraud, and about $16 billion is lost to it, per year, according to Javelin Strategy & Research. Stolen Social Security numbers make it easy for criminals to commit identity fraud. With them, they open new lines of credit and accounts, file fraudulent tax returns, secure medical care and steal government benefits.

Criminals commonly get their hands on Social Security numbers through data breaches, stealing wallets or purses, mail theft, dumpster diving and phishing calls or emails.

“For better or worse, you are the gatekeeper,” Adam Levin, chairman and founder of CyberScout said. “The person most responsible for shielding your Social Security Number is you. Therefore, your mission is to limit, as best you can, the universe of those who gain access to it.”

Here are 10 places that have no business asking for a Social Security number:

  1. Job applications
  2. Hospitals or medical and dental offices
  3. Pharmacies
  4. Public schools
  5. Sports clubs
  6. Children’s camps
  7. Supermarket loyalty programs
  8. Charities
  9. Airline ticketing and frequent flyer programs
  10. Email messages

If you are unsure how to respond when someone asks for this number, it’s important to never hand it over blindly, Levin says. He recommends these steps when determining how to react:

  1. Stop and think. Take a moment to consider if there is a legitimate need for the Social Security number. Many places blindly ask for it, but some places, such as the IRS, Department of Motor Vehicles or military, may legitimately need it.
  2. Negotiate.There are other identifiers, such as a driver’s license or account number, which may be used instead.
  3. Get assurance. If you must share your Social Security number, make sure there are strong security measures in place to protect it.

If you suspect you’re a victim of identity theft or fraud, immediately contact your local branch or call us at (850) 224-4960 (Tallahassee) or 877-GO-FSUCU (Toll Free). For more information about how to protect your identity and credit, read more about CyberScout.

*The content provided in this article consists of the opinions and ideas of FSU Credit Union, does not constitute legal or financial advice, and should be used for informational purposes only. Any decisions you make based on the information contained in this article is made in your sole discretion and liability. FSU Credit Union disclaims any damages or liability for decisions you make based on the information provided.

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