Identity theft occurs when someone obtains your personal information and uses it to take your money or to commit fraud or other crimes. Criminals often use phone calls, emails and other methods to obtain personal information, such as your social security number and then use it to commit identity theft. Not every request for your Social Security number is an effort to steal your identity—but not every request is mandatory. In general, you will need to provide your SSN to:
- Employers for wage and tax reporting purposes
- Financial institutions, such as banks or brokerage firms, for tax reporting purposes
- Banks, credit card issuers or other lenders if you apply for a loan or new credit card
- Landlords or utility providers (such as a power company) for a credit check
- Government agencies to obtain services and to file your taxes
- Credit reporting agencies—Equifax, Experian or TransUnion—or AnnualCreditReport.com to obtain your credit report or credit score
When an individual or entity asks for your SSN, be sure to ask the following questions to help you decide whether to reveal it:
- Why do you need my SSN?
- Will you accept a different form of identification (such as a telephone number, driver's license or passport)?
- How will you use my SSN?
- How do you protect my SSN and other information from being stolen or misused?
- What will happen if I don't provide my SSN?