“Could you provide the last 4 digits of your social security number?” It’s something nearly all of us have heard on the phone at some point.
We list them off, hang up, and carry on about our days, not thinking much of it. It’s only then that the doubt occurs – should I have done that?
When someone outright asks for your social security number, or SSN, then we’re more likely to stop and say no. However, when they’re only after those last 4 digits, it feels much safer to give them out. After all, what harm could just 4 digits do?
The reality is, even just those 4 digits could cause big problems, and you should almost never give them out. If someone has your SSN, then they already know a lot about you.
They can gain access to your money, take your government benefits, and even make it difficult for you to receive medical care. Your SSN is incredibly important, and not something you should risk. Don’t give out your SSN, and don’t give out the last 4 digits.
There are organizations who are allowed to know your SSN. These are generally related to the government, and include medical facilities and the DMV. In these cases, it should be safe to share your social security number.
It’s important to understand who does have a right to know, because then you can understand who doesn’t. You can make sure you don’t give the number to the wrong person, by knowing who the right people are.
Potential employers are not required to ask for any part of your SSN, and you don’t have to give it out. The only time a potential employer may need your SSN is for a government related job, or if they’re required to run a credit check.
If you’re applying for any other type of job, it’s normal to be wary of requests for the last 4 digits of the SSN. If you can, explain why you aren’t comfortable sharing that information.
Once you’ve passed through the initial interview stage, or other types of screening, the employer may want to run a background check. At this point, they will require your SSN.
Schools, play groups, gyms, summer camps, grocery stores etc. do not require your SSN. If they’re asking for the last 4 digits as identification, simply request that they use another system. As long as you stay polite, there should be no problem complying with your request.
If online marketers, phone companies, or sales people on the street ask for the last 4 digits of your SSN, refuse. They don’t need it, and shouldn’t have access to it. This is also the hardest time to identify a scam. It’s always better to be safe.
Banks do require your SSN, as do online credit checkers. However, often this information won’t be asked for over the phone. If you feel suspicious, then you only have to ask for further information. Always be wary when giving out personal information over the phone.
When you aren’t comfortable giving out your SSN, then it’s okay to say “no”. There are exceptions to this – a medical facility or the DMV, for example – but if it doesn’t seem on the level, then just say “no”. If it is a scam, then they’ll probably give up when you don’t budge.
On any occasion, you need to consider who the person asking is, and how much you trust them. If you can’t see any reason for giving the last 4 digits, then don’t do it.
If you’re feeling unsure, then it’s perfectly fine to step back, and do some research – particularly if it’s a phone conversation. Many organizations will be clear online or in information packets about whether they will need your SSN, and what for.
It’s even easier if you receive an email asking for the last 4 digits of your SSN. In most cases, simply block the sender and move on. If it’s a convincing email, potentially pretending to be from a government organization, then take the time to research the legitimacy.
Even if you don’t feel comfortable outright saying “no”, request further information, including why they need your SSN. If they can’t realistically answer the question, or seem unsure about having their methods come under scrutiny, just say you need some time to think it over.
It’s easy to give out 4 digits, because it’s such a small part of the overall SSN. You might find yourself wondering: “what harm can it do?” Even if it seems as though you aren’t revealing very much, remember that the more numbers you give away, the more numbers that are out there. 4 digits are 4 digits closer to knowing the entire SSN.
These 4 digits can be combined with other information to narrow down an identity. Date of birth, location, even gender, can be combined with the last 4 digits to create an accurate picture of a person.
Don’t forget, we live in the age of computers. Once a scammer has the last for digits, they can potentially run an algorithm to help them figure out the other 5. Then, with almost no effort, they have the entirety of your SSN.
If you’ve given your SSN away to someone, then you can, potentially, apply for a new one. However, this is a long process, with a lot of hoops to jump through. After all that, your application still might not be successful.
The best way to avoid this is to nor give any part of the number to anyone.
Should someone ask for the last 4 digits of your SSN, you need to give it the same consideration you would if they asked for the entire number. Ask yourself: do I trust this person? And: what might they need the information for? Keep yourself safe by staying aware, and protecting your data.