Your Social Security number falls into the wrong hands.
A Social Security number is the Holy Grail of ID theft. Your SSN, along with other tidbits of personal information, such as your name, birth date and mailing address, allows an ID thief to open credit card and bank accounts and take out loans (or access your current ones), apply for government benefits, file a tax return, get medical care, and get a job in your name. Unlike a bank account or credit card number, a Social Security number is permanent; it’s not easy to get a new one. That means once it’s exposed, you’ll have to be on alert for life.
How to Avoid It
Be wary of giving out your SSN. You’ll have to hand it over to open a new credit account and to obtain government benefits. Your employer requires it for tax purposes. Medical offices may ask for your SSN, but they don’t necessarily need it, especially if they have your health insurance information or if you’ve already provided them your SSN in the past. When in doubt, ask why the SSN is necessary or leave the space for it blank. Some companies want the number so they can track you down in case you fail to pay bills. An alternative identifier—say, your phone number—may suffice.
Shred unneeded documents that include your SSN (as well as other sensitive information, such as bank account and insurance numbers). Store your Social Security card in a safe place at home or in a safe-deposit box; don’t carry it in your wallet.