Retirement Planning, Elder Law, and Senior Finance

11/8/2023 | By Emma Patch

Raj Ananthanpillai, founder and CEO of Trua, an identity verification and screening company, discusses the risks of sharing personal information.

Question: Why do you call this the new golden age for identity theft?

Answer: Everybody is sharing personal information, including giving away their Social Security number, date of birth or where they live, whether it’s to sign up for a gym membership or for discounts on groceries, because they think they’re getting something of value.

But these companies are collecting your personal information. Not only does that put you at risk if the data is hacked, but companies may turn around and sell it to third parties. Some of this information is then stolen and bartered on the “dark web”—where users and website operators are anonymous and untraceable.

Companies are supposed to get your consent before sharing your information with third parties, but it’s on 13 to 15 pages of fine print that 99% of people can’t understand, so they agree to the terms.

Question: Given the risks of sharing personal information, what should you do if a company asks for your Social Security number?

Answer: If the entity asking for your Social Security number isn’t a financial institution, government agency or employer, you should ask why they need it, what they are going to do with it, how long they’re going to store it and whether they share it with any third parties. If they’re using your Social Security number for identity verification only, you should ask whether there’s another way to establish your identity.

Question: Is there a risk to giving a company or provider your cellphone number?

A torn confidential sticker on a keyboard's enter button illustrating the risks of sharing your personal; information.

Answer: Yes, because it may be used to commit fraud. These days, cellphone numbers are being used as a piece of verification data to prevent fraud in digital transactions. In addition, as online vendors collect cell phone numbers, they use them for marketing purposes, which means you may receive a lot of spam. They may also sell them to third parties that collect and barter them on the dark web.

You can end up getting a lot of calls and texts from scammers who are trying to trick you into giving up personal information or downloading malware. Scammers may also try to use your cell phone number to access your online accounts.

Question: How can we protect ourselves when using new technologies such as ChatGPT and other forms of generative AI?

Answer: Never give one of these programs your personal information, such as your Social Security number, date of birth, mother’s maiden name or even your work history. If you provide this kind of information to ChatGPT and ask it to write you a résumé, for example, you never know where the information will go or whether it’s going to be used for a nefarious purpose. And with artificial intelligence, there’s even more proliferation of information that could be hacked or stolen.

Emma Patch is a senior writer at Kiplinger Personal Finance magazine. For more on this and similar money topics, visit

©2023 The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Emma Patch

Emma Patch is a staff writer at Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. For more on this and similar money topics, visit