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Identity Theft - Head Matters


2. Preventing Identity Theft

Protect your Social Security Number
Don't carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your Social Security Number on a check. Don’t give out your Social Security Number!  It should only be given out when absolutely necessary  and you need to ask how the company to whom you are giving the information to plans to protect it. If your state uses your Social Security Number as your driver's license number, ask to substitute another number. Do the same if your health insurance company uses your Social Security Number as your policy number.

Your employer and financial institutions will need your Social Security Number for wage and tax reporting purposes. Other businesses may ask you for your Social Security Number to do a credit check if you are applying for a loan, renting an apartment, or signing up for utilities. Sometimes, however, they simply want your Social Security Number for general record keeping. If someone asks for your Social Security Number, ask:

  • Why do you need my Social Security Number?
  • How will my Social Security Number be used?
  • How do you protect my Social Security Number from being stolen?
  • What will happen if I don't give you my Social Security Number?
  • Can you use something other than my Social Security Number?

If you don't provide your Social Security Number, some businesses may not provide you with the service or benefit you want. Getting satisfactory answers to these questions will help you decide whether you want to share your Social Security Number with the business. The decision to share is yours.

Treat your trash and mail carefully
To thwart an identity thief who may pick through your trash or recycling bins to capture your personal information, always shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks and bank statements, expired charge cards that you're discarding, and credit offers you get in the mail. You may want to buy a personal shredding machine at the local discount store.

To opt out of receiving prescreened offers of credit in the mail, call: 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688). You will be asked to provide your Social Security Number, which the consumer reporting companies need to match you with your file.

Deposit your outgoing mail containing personal information into post office collection boxes or at your local post office, rather than in an unsecured mailbox. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox. If you're planning to be away from home and can't pick up your mail, contact the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 or online at, to request a vacation hold. The Postal Service will hold your mail at your local post office until return. 

Safeguard your purse and wallet
Protect your purse and wallet at all times. Don't carry your Social Security Number or card; leave it in a secure place. Carry only the identification information and the credit and debit cards that you'll actually need when you go out.  Be careful about leaving your wallet in your car, locker, or backpack as that is all a thief needs.

Store information in secure locations
Keep your personal information in a secure place at home and at work. If you have roommates or are having work done in your house, hide your personal identification information. Share your personal information only with those family members who have a legitimate need for it. Keep your purse or wallet in a safe place at work; do the same with forms that have your sensitive personal information such as your paycheck stub, insurance cards, and bills. 

Ask about information security procedures in your workplace or at businesses, doctor's offices or other institutions that collect your personal information. Find out who has access to your personal information and verify that it is handled securely. Ask about the disposal procedures for those records as well. Find out if your information will be shared with anyone else. If so, ask how your information can be kept confidential.  


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