Social Security numbers are one of the highest risk data elements known to mankind.

A Social Security number in combination with a name and date of birth (which are publicly accessible) in the hands of a bad person can wreak havoc on an individual and/or a company. Those data elements can be used to open credit card accounts, utility accounts, sold on the black market and ruin one’s credit and identity.

It is amazing how nonchalant some people and companies still are about the use and disclosure of Social Security numbers and how often people ask for them when they aren’t necessary. Privacy tip for individuals–protect your Social Security number like you protect your children–fiercely. Don’t give it to your doctors unless you are on Medicare or Medicaid–they don’t need it (and hopefully the government will stop using them too). Don’t fill it in just because it’s included on a form. Push back and find out exactly why whomever is asking for it really need it. Convenience is not a good answer. There is amazing matching software on the market that can be used to identify you instead of asking for your Social Security number.

Privacy Tip for companies–protect your employees’ and customers’ Social Security numbers like you protect your own–fiercely. Find out where they are in your company and put security measures in place to protect them. Don’t ask for Social Security numbers if you don’t absolutely need them. If you do, lock them up, limit access to them, and don’t fax them or send them to others if they don’t need them. Don’t send them in regular mail or in unsecured email. Train your employees that if they are receiving Social Security numbers from others outside the company and they don’t need them, to ask the other company to stop sending them. As soon as they are received by your company they are your responsibility and increase your risk.

We are all in this together–fighting the bad guys–so let’s all help protect each other to make it more difficult for them. We can make a difference if we all use best practices and protect each other.—