With identity theft a rising threat for all Americans, it’s extremely important to keep your Social Security number safe and secure. With just a little identifying information and your Social Security number, thieves can apply for credit and open accounts in your name, wrecking your credit in the process.

But your Social Security number is requested by so many third parties – doctors, banks, employers, and more – that giving it out may feel like second nature, and you might not be sure how to keep it secure.

Here are six tips for protecting your Social Security number:

1. Don’t Carry It Around

You should never carry your Social Security card in your wallet, purse, or pocket. If your card is lost or stolen, it can be easily used to commit identity theft. Instead, work on memorizing your Social Security number so you can recall it when you need it. Keep your card at home in a safe place, like a lockbox or safe.

2. Don’t Share It When Organizations Don’t Need It

While plenty of entities ask for your Social Security number, they don’t always need it. Organizations that report information to the Internal Revenue Service – such as employers, banks, states, and government entities – may need your Social Security number for legitimate reasons. But other third parties, such as doctor’s offices, may ask for it even if they don’t really need it (if you are enrolled in Medicare, it may be a legal requirement to share your number).
You should consider refusing to share your Social Security number with organizations that don’t need it for a legitimate reason, as you aren’t legally required to share it with these entities. While the organization may tell you it’s required, they may not be able to provide a valid reason when asked. Consider telling them you’d prefer not to share your Social Security number for privacy and security reasons and see how they respond.

3. Don’t Share It – Period

For the most part, your friends and family don’t need your Social Security number, so don’t give it out unless absolutely necessary. You should also never share your Social Security number by email or over the phone.

4. Ask About Security Protocol

Data breaches are a reality of the digital age, and Social Security numbers are a valuable target for hackers and thieves. When asked to share your Social Security number, you should ask some security questions before you give it out:

• How is your Social Security number stored?
• What security does the entity have in place to protect your Social Security number?
• Will the entity cover your losses if your Social Security number is stolen?

If you aren’t provided sufficient answers for these questions, they probably don’t have adequate security in place.

5. Protect Documents

Any documents that contain your Social Security number should be closely protected at home in a secure location. When discarding of old personal documents – whether they contain your full Social Security number or not – you should shred them instead of throwing them away intact.

6. Monitor Your Credit

Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to be 100% sure your Social Security number has never been breached. That’s why watching your credit – either on your own or with the help of a credit and identity theft monitoring service – is important. Regularly checking your credit report can help you identify warning signs of identity theft and take steps to address it.