SS numbers and online applications

Q: I am writing to ask you a question about social security numbers and online job applications. Last year I noticed online applications starting to ask for an applicant’s social security number. Apparently if I don’t submit the number, I can’t go any further in the application process. I feel this is terribly unsafe and in fact, recently heard an IRS spokeswoman say that we must hold our numbers close to our vest. She mentioned banking as one place where we might be more flexible but she didn’t mention job applications. I wondered if you have an opinion about this and/or any advice.

A:Your question is a good one and one that I get asked often by friends and family. It is certainly dangerous to disclose your Social Security number on the internet and you are right to be concerned. Identity fraud is rampant and there is often no way of knowing whether the appropriate web security is being used. Scammers may even set up fake job postings in order to lure prospective applicants into providing sensitive personal information such as Social Security number and date of birth.

In order to see if it is lawful for a prospective employer to ask for such information, I consulted Valerie Samuels, an employment lawyer with the Boston firm Posternak Blankstein & Lund LLP. She agrees there is no reason for an employer to ask for your Social Security number at this point in the application process. Unfortunately, Attorney Samuels said that there are no laws or regulations preventing employers from asking for such information in this state. But, as of March 2012, Massachusetts requires companies that have possession of personal information of Massachusetts’ residents to create effective administrative, technical, and physical safeguards to protect the information. This requirement applies to information received over the internet, such as a job application.

It is unlikely that your personal computer will have the same level of security as that of most companies. If you are uncomfortable providing your Social Security number over the internet, and you should be, try contacting the prospective employer to explain your concern and see if they will accept a hand delivered application. Don’t mail your application because you have no idea where it will land. If your only option is an online application, be sure to closely monitor your credit report and credit card statements to ensure that there is no fraudulent use of your private information.


by Pattie Hunt Sinacole

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