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Sometimes, it's OK to share data

They say you should never say never. That's probably because sometimes, such absolute statements backfire.

We tell our kids never to talk to strangers. We use that absolute statement because we think it's the best way to keep them safe. If they don't ever talk to anyone they don't know, the chances of them being lured away by a man in a van are much smaller.

Of course, if your kid gets lost at Disney World, you would want him to find a grown-up -- a "stranger" -- and ask for help.

It's much like when experts say, "Never give anyone your Social Security number."

It used to be that Social Security numbers were spewed out willy-nilly. Companies used them as file numbers, colleges posted them on bulletin boards to announce grades. When people became more aware of how crazy that was, and how rampant identity theft had become, there was a big backlash. And rightly so.

But experts, going into mother-bear mode and feeling people would be better safe than sorry, began telling people they should never give out their Social Security number, ever, for any reason.

"That doesn't work in our real world," said Peggy Penders, a spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau.

In fact it can backfire big time. Many insurance companies use credit score as a major factor in underwriting risk. If you choose to have your premium calculated without a social, your rate can come out much higher than it rightfully should.

It truly is important to keep your Social Security number safe. For the most part, you'll want to guard it with your life and keep it to yourself. But there are situations when you can, or have to, give it out.

"There are certain times that we can provide our Social Security number when dealing with a legitimate company that we know and trust, and when we have made the call ourselves," Penders said.

Does that mean you should spit out your digits to any schmuck calling on the phone? Of course not. In fact, even in legitimate situations, like making an appointment with a new doctor, you should ask the company why they need it, how they'll use it and what will happen if you don't give it, suggests the AARP.

But if, for example, you're applying for a job, driver's license, credit, or government benefits, you'll have to give it up. If you buy something for more than $10,000, the payee is required by law to report the transaction to the IRS along with your social, according to the AARP.

Remember, there are risks any time that number sees the light of day. But just as with every other part of life, not all risks can be avoided.

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