Any online job searcher knows that when you're applying for jobs, there is a lot of information being passed back and forth, especially as you get deeper into the job search and interview process: job history, personal information like your address and social security information, salary history and much more. And with complaints of identity theft and other forms of fraud growing steadily each year, according to the Federal Trade Commission, it's not unusual for job seekers to be nervous about keeping their information safe.

Luckily, protecting yourself against online identity theft is straightforward. Taking just a few precautions can help to protect sensitive information and keep you safe from damage to your finances and life from online identity theft.

In order to successfully steal your identity, an identity thief needs specific information such as:

  • Account numbers/PIN

  • Social security number

  • Driver's license number

  • Tax form information

  • Marital status

This is all sensitive information that shouldn't be shared with anyone. In addition, until you are actually hired or there is a need to perform a background check, no hiring manager or potential employer would need that kind of sensitive information. Without a job offer, if an application, hiring manager, employer or website asks for that type of information, consider it a large red flag.

You may be tempted to withhold other personal information such as your address or phone number, however if you omit too much information, hiring managers may assume you have something to hide and your resume may not generate much interest.

In addition, there is a variety of information that is not considered “personally identifiable,” which simply means that it's unlikely this information could be used in online identity theft. This information is always “safe” to share. This type of information includes:

  • First and last name (but avoid using your full name)

  • City and state of residence

  • School information such as grades

  • Employer names, job position and salary

  • Email address (especially if it is an account specifically created for a job search)

If you need to provide any other information that you may feel uncomfortable with such as a telephone number or full address, consider how you are being asked to provide it. Is it via an online system? If it's a “closed” system such as Monster or CareerBuilder, you are safe to include it, as only subscribed employers can view resumes. If it's a type of service such as online classifieds that is not closed and others can view your resume, you may not want to provide more sensitive information.

In addition, if a hiring manager or potential employer asks for sensitive information like a social security number, don't hesitate to ask for verification. You are within your rights to inquire why they need the information and ask for an official form with their background check company's contact information on it. You can also politely reach out to the background check agency, who will very likely verify their authenticity.

Above all else, when it comes to online identity theft, trust your gut. If an employer is asking for information that doesn't seem like they should need, go ahead and question it.

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