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Keeping Social Security Numbers Safe

Monday, April 4, 2005; Page A9

Although Social Security numbers are used by businesses throughout the economy, privacy advocates recommend that individuals take steps to limit the distribution of their numbers:

-- Don't carry any document with the number in your wallet or purse. In addition to leaving your Social Security card at home, make sure health insurance cards or other documents don't have the number on them.

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-- If your driver's license number is your Social Security number, ask your motor vehicle department to change it. Don't print the number on your checks.

-- If any of your financial service or insurance providers print your Social Security number on statements or checks that move through the mail, call and ask them to stop.

-- Adopt a policy of not disclosing your number without requesting an explanation of why disclosure is necessary and will benefit you. Business cannot require it, but they can refuse to provide you service if you do not provide it. By the same token, you can take your business elsewhere if you are not satisfied with the explanation. Ask to speak to a supervisor, and ask about the company's privacy and security policies.

-- If your number is both an account number and a password for any service, change one or both of them yourself or request that the service provider allow you to do so. Do not use your Social Security number as a PIN.

-- Pay attention to the Social Security administration statements that are mailed every year. Be certain the information is correct.

Compiled by Jonathan Krim - The Washington Post

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