Of all the types of personal information that could put you at risk for identity theft when in the wrong hands, your Social Security number is the most vulnerable. As the most common way the government, doctor’s offices and creditors can identity you, your Social Security number is necessary to apply for new credit and other benefits. This is why thieves often target this key piece of information to steal.
With the risk of identity theft high, here are three ways to protect your Social Security number:
1. Leave Your Social Security Card At Home
It is rare that you will need to bring your Social Security card with you. When you don’t need your Social Security card, leave it at home and in a secure location, such as a locked safe. This limits the chance someone could glance at your card or steal your wallet with your personal information.
2. Shred Documents with Your Number
Although you might think throwing your mail away is the last time it’ll see the light of day, thieves could steal mail to access your personal information. Instead of simply throwing away mail that displays your Social Security number and other personal details, shred these documents to keep thieves from seeing this information. Additionally, always check your mailbox, and do not leave mail inside the box for long periods of time, which could give thieves the opportunity to steal your personal documents.
3. Know Who Requires This Information and Who Doesn’t
While it is tricky to know when you should give out your Social Security number, it’s important to understand who requires this information. Cable companies often ask for your Social Security number in order to check your credit and make sure you will be able to pay for their services. However, you do not have to give out your information and can instead pay an upfront fee with most companies to cover their risk.
“Businesses, banks, schools, private agencies, etc., are free to request someone’s number and use it for any purpose that does not violate a federal or state law,” the SSA said.
Despite this, you could offer a different way to identify you to avoid giving them your Social Security number.
If you want to keep an eye on your credit, you can pull your free annual credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com and you can check your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com.
- How to Use Free Credit Monitoring Tools
- The Signs Your Identity Has Been Stolen
- What to Do If You’re a Victim of Identity Theft
This article originally appeared on Credit.com.