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Job Doc

Should you give Social Security numbers on applications?

Q. 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 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 wonder if you have an opinion about this and any advice.

A. Your question is one I get asked often by friends and family. It is certainly risky to disclose your Social Security number on the Internet and you are right to be concerned. Identity fraud is rampant. Scammers may even set up fake job postings in order to lure prospective applicants into providing sensitive personal information.

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I consulted Valerie Samuels, an employment lawyer with the Boston firm Posternak Blankstein & Lund LLP. She agreed that there is no reason for employers to ask for Social Security numbers so early in the application process. Unfortunately in Massachusetts, Samuels said, there are no laws or regulations preventing employers from asking for such information.

As of March 2012, however, the state requires companies that have possession of personal information of Massachusetts residents to create effective administrative, technical, and physical safeguards to protect the data. This requirement applies to job applications.

It is unlikely that your personal computer will have the same level of security as most companies. If you are uncomfortable providing your Social Security number over the Internet — and you should be — try contacting the prospective employer to see if they will accept a hand delivered application.

Don’t mail the 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.

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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton.