Almost everyone who uses the internet has an email address. It’s a crucial part of your digital life. You use it to communicate with others, sign up for a social media account, shop for things online, and more. Given the many purposes that email serves, it’s only natural to ask, “Is it safe to give out your email address?” The answer depends on who you are giving it to.
Only give your email address to legitimate and credible organisations. If you are at all unsure of the actual identity of an entity or person asking you for your email address do take a bit more time to check if this may be indeed a scam or risky before giving what is requested.
Over 300 billion emails are sent and received every day, and they’re expected to reach over 360 billion daily emails in 2024. The rise will continue despite the increasing popularity of chat apps and mobile messengers.
These figures don’t mean you can just give your email address to anyone without a care in the world. You have to remember that your email address is now considered sensitive personal information. If it falls into the wrong hands, your email address can be used to steal your identity, access your other personal information, and more.
What are the Dangers of Giving Your Email Address Carelessly?
1. You’re handing off the key to your digital life.
If your email address gets into the wrong hands, your digital life becomes vulnerable to all forms of online attacks. Hackers, for instance, can try to reset your password via email. They can also gather other pertinent data about you, including your name, your address, where you work, your kids’ school, and your contact list.
When they get personal information about you, they can call you, pretend that they know you, and trick you into giving them access to your accounts or more details about yourself and even your family.
2. You’ll receive more spam emails
Phishers and spear phishers can use your email address to send you spam messages and fraudulent emails to trick you into giving out your personal information. Phishers are cybercriminals who try to get your personal information by pretending to be a trustworthy entity in an email.
Spear phishers or email spoofers launch a more targeted attack in an effort to get unauthorized access to confidential information. These cybercriminals will try to steal your account numbers, Social Security numbers, and passwords, which could lead to identity theft.
What’s more, your contact list will also be at risk. When cyber criminals get access to your mailing lists, they can send to your contacts spam emails too to get their sensitive information. Imagine the consequences that would bring! We don’t want our friends to blame us for exposing them to potential fraud.
3. Your Other Sensitive Information Could be at Risk
If hackers have your email address, they can use it to steal other sensitive information. That’s because your email often contains your name, the year you were born, or even your full birthdate. These details can be used to guess your passwords and answer security questions. They will try to take your financial details, home address, phone number, complete name, and more.
What are the Warning Signs that Someone Stole Your Personal Information?
- You receive a data breach alert.
- You get calls from debt collectors for unpaid loans that aren’t yours.
- You receive medical bills that aren’t yours.
- You have multiple tax returns filed under your name.
- You have unexplained withdrawals from your bank account.
- Merchants decline your checks.
- You see unauthorized charges on your credit card statement.
- You notice unfamiliar accounts on your credit report.
What Other Methods Can Scammers Use to Get Your Email Address?
- Scraping the web for email addresses – If you display your email address on your social media account, in a blog comment, forum signature, or anywhere else online, scammers can use web scraping tools to get it.
- Sending random emails – Scammers send spam messages to random emails. They have no idea if the emails are active unless an unsuspecting individual who owns the email address responds to it.
- Harvesting data – Scammers create fake sweepstakes sites to entice you to hand over your personal information with the promise of getting a prize.
- Buying email lists – Some companies sell the email list they managed to build after launching a legitimate giveaway. Once scammers get a hold of this list and your email address is included, you can expect to receive a lot of spam emails.
- Hacking into online databases – Scammers may also hack into online databases with poor online security.
How Can You Protect Your Email Address?
- Be careful with whom you give your email address.
- Avoid sending personally identifiable information via email.
- Use two-factor authentication for extra security.
- Don’t click on links in suspicious emails.
- Don’t download attachments from emails sent by people you don’t know.
- Avoid using public Wi-Fi or public computers if possible. If you do, be careful about doing anything that may compromise your personal identity or financial security.
- Update your computer and your smartphone regularly.
- Lock your computer if you need to step out.
- Always sign out of your email account when you’re not using it.
- Be careful of phishing scams.
- Create a strong Wi-Fi password.
- Install antivirus software from a reputable company, like Norton or McAfee, and don’t forget to update it regularly.
Can Someone Steal Your Social Security Number Using Your Email Address?
YES! Hackers can use your email address to steal your Social Security number. In 2017, hackers stole 143 million SSN from Equifax, and it was dubbed as the worst data breach in the US. In 2019, Equifax has to pay $700 million (or $20,000 per person) for that breach.
A compromised Security Security number can cause a lot more headaches and risks than other personal information. If your bank account or credit card numbers were compromised, the bank can revoke them and issue new accounts.
However your Social Security number is permanent; it’s meant for lifetime use and it’s tied to your bank accounts and credit history. When cybercriminals get your SSN and birthdate, they can easily steal your identity. Aside from applying for loans and new credit cards, identity thieves can use your SSN to claim your medical or disability benefits and even apply for a tax refund.
What can someone do with your Social Security Number and date of birth?
If your Social Security number, date of birth, and other personally identifiable information fall at the hands of an identity thief, you’ll face a lot of problems. Your SSN and date of birth are linked to nearly all aspects of your daily life. They’re used for employment, taxes, bank accounts, education, social benefits, and even your medical history. So, once they’re stolen, all of these things will be at risk.
Here are a few things identity thieves can do:
Open a Financial Account
When you open an account, whether it’s with a bank or for a new credit card, you’ll have to provide your Social Security number and date of birth. An identity thief can easily open a new bank or credit card account using your SSN. You’ll be in for a surprise once you find out that there are multiple unusual transactions under your account or that you have lots of missed payments for loans that you never applied for.
Get Medical Care
An identity thief can also use your SSN to obtain medical treatment, which could negatively affect your medical records. Worse, you’ll be left with medical bills to pay.
File a Tax Refund
A 2018 report by the IRS noted that the government agency received 242,000 reports of tax-related identity theft in 2017. Your Social Security number can be used to file a fraudulent tax refund.
Commit Criminal Activities
If the identity thief who stole your SSN commits crimes, you might find yourself entangled in criminal activities. This could prevent you from getting a job or other transactions that require a background check.
What to Do if You Believe Someone Is Using Your Social Security Number?
- Check your Social Security statement. Log in to your Social Security account.
- Contact the Social Security Administration if you notice any inconsistencies in your Social Security earnings record.
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission if your identity has been stolen.
- Contact the Internal Revenue Service if your Social Security number was misused to get your tax refund or any other transaction that involves taxes. You can also call 1-800-908-4490.
- File a report with the police in your local area.
File a complaint with the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center.
How to Protect Your Social Security Number?
- Your Social Security number is considered sensitive personally identifiable information that you need to protect to prevent identity theft. Here are a few things you need to remember.
- Memorize your Social Security number so you don’t have to bring your Social Security card unless necessary.
- Keep it in a safe place.
- Don’t share your Social Security number unless it’s necessary.
- Don’t throw out documents that contain personally identifiable information.
- Never use your SSN as your password.
- Track your credit report regularly. How do you put an alert on your Social Security number? You can contact major credit bureaus and request fraud alerts: Equifax, Experian, and Transunion.
- Always monitor your credit card and bank accounts.
- Consider using an Identity Protection Service like Lifelock or Identity Force.
- Be careful when sharing your Social Security number using your electronic devices.
Is it safe to give out your email address? Not always. You need to be careful about it. Protecting your email address and your Social Security number is a responsibility that you should not take lightly. Both are crucial personal information and essential components of your identity. You will face a lot of problems if they fall into the wrong hands. Keep in mind the tips we listed above to protect your personal information.
Do you use your email address for just about everything you do on the internet? What measures have you taken to keep it safe? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!