If you have ever needed any additional incentive to restrict the sharing of your social security number, this is it. Identity theft in the form of tax fraud is on the rise, and your social security number is where it starts.
USA Today reports that in 2011, there were 1.5 million instances of potentially fraudulent tax refunds. As reported by The Chicago Tribune, that number fell in 2012, to 1.2 million, but saw a huge spike this year at 1.6 million just during the first six months of 2013. In response to the rise in tax fraud in recent years, the IRS says it has instituted dozens of new preventative measures. They are also now employing 3,000 people to work on identity theft issues, twice as many people assigned to the task as last year. It’s just too bad none of this seems to be working. Though the IRS says the monetary cost of tax fraud is down, the spike in the number of occurrences is cause for concern.
Here’s how identity thieves do it:
1) They get a hold of your social security number.
2) File a tax return using fraudulent withholding documents.
3) Provide their address for receipt of the return.
While there is no way of guaranteeing that you can keep your social security number out of the hands of identity thieves, there is one big measure you can take to protect yourself — don’t give out your social security number every time you’re asked.
Your employer and the IRS need your social for your taxes. And lenders need it when considering you for a loan. But that’s pretty much it. You are not required to provide your social security number to anyone else.
One place you can definitely omit this information is at the doctor’s office and hospital. They don’t need your social security number, so why give it to them? Even landlords and utility companies don’t need your social security number, though you’ll likely want to provide it so they can run a credit check.
If and when anyone else asks for your social security number, just say no. If they insist, ask them why they need it, who they’ll share it with, and how they’ll store it. If you persist and refuse to give the number, they may refuse to do business with you. But if it seems to you an unnecessary requirement, you should feel perfectly correct and confident in taking your business somewhere else.