On several occasions, I’ve been asked by an online salesperson to provide my social security number as proof of identification. Is this a legitimate request?

Thank you very much for your question. Your social security number is a key piece of information that a thief may want to steal and one of the most difficult pieces of identification to untangle. Your Social Security number, along with basic personal information that might be attainable online, may allow individuals to access credit on your behalf. A common result of this type of theft is that a new credit card is opened and used in the individual’s name. Victims of this identity crime often do not find out until they receive a new credit card bill.

DO NOT provide your Social Security number to anyone you did not directly contact. If you did not personally contact the company or individual seeking to establish or create a new account, it is unlikely that your Social Security number would be needed on the phone. For example, if you applied for a new credit card, bank account, or mortgage, your Social Security might be relevant. However, the vast majority of these applications would be in writing or would have taken place in person. Further, your bank, credit card company, and mortgage company already have your Social Security number on file. Therefore, they may ask you to confirm its last four digits, but should not need you to provide it to them again orally on the telephone.

Additionally, most companies do not need your Social Security number as proof of identification. If a business needs to verify your identity, ask them what other data would be helpful to ensure confidence about your identify without giving your Social Security number.

Finally, if you have any doubts, do not provide the information to the caller. Confirm with the caller who they claim to work for then hang up the phone and contact that company directly.

Contributor: Kerry Peck