How to send your Social Security number safely via email—three easy methods

Want to learn how to send your Social Security number safely via email? Check out our expert guide to the safest methods and most reliable providers.
In 2021 alone, over 15 million Americans were victims of identity theft. This form of cybercrime is increasingly common because we share personal information online more than ever.In combination with other data, your Social Security number (SSN) can be used to open lines of credit in your name and impersonate you offline and online, so it’s crucial to keep it safe.If you must share sensitive information, you should take the necessary steps to protect it from unauthorized third parties. This detailed guide will:
  • Show alternatives to sharing your SSN via email
  • Teach you how to send your Social Security number safely via email
  • Reveal which email service provider is the safest option
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Alternatives to sharing your SSN via email

Don’t send your Social Security number in an email unless absolutely necessary. The request for your SSN is likely a scam. Even if it’s not, malicious third parties can intercept your email correspondence and obtain this sensitive piece of info.Once someone asks for your SSN, you’ve got two options:
  1. Ask for an alternative way to verify your identity
  2. Provide your information in person
Here are some details that can stand in for your SSN:
Alternatives to SSNExplanation
Last four digits of the SSNLess risky than providing your full Social Security number and an acceptable alternative in most cases
Passport numberUnique 9-digit number identifying your passport. It is located in the upper top right corner of your passport’s second page
Driver’s license numberFound on your state-issued driver’s license. The format differs depending on the issuing authority
State ID numberLocated on your State ID card. Issued by the local DMV or state agency as an alternative for people who don’t drive but need a photo ID
Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)Found on your tax returns. A tax processing number issued to people who can’t get an SSN
In case sharing your SSN via email appears to be the only option, even though it rarely is, the following questions are in order:
  • Why do you need my SSN?
  • How will you store my SSN?
  • What are your privacy policies?
  • Will you share my SSN with third parties?
Unfortunately, a business or organization can deny services if you don’t comply with their request for your Social Security number. Some businesses impose additional fees in such cases or require a deposit, but legitimate companies won’t insist on sharing your SSN via email. If someone is asking you to do this, you’re likely dealing with an online scam.

Why is sharing your Social Security number dangerous?

Legitimate requesters will not insist on receiving your SSN via email, text, or over a website. You may have to disclose your information, but it doesn't have to be via digital communication channels. If you receive such a request, always ask for an alternative way to provide it, that is, in person.If you still decide to respond to the request, check if the person requesting it is who they say they are. The following persons and institutions may legitimately ask for your Social Security number:
  • School
  • Landlord
  • Bank
  • Employer
  • Accountant
Even if it seems like the email did come from one of these sources, tread carefully. Hackers often employ a tactic called phishing, which involves impersonating a trusted source and sending an email with a request for your personal information.These emails may instruct you to provide your SSN or lead you to a fake bank or government institution website. There you may find a fraudulent form instructing you to enter your SSN or other confidential information.Before opening suspicious links or responding to emails from unconfirmed sources, conduct a Google search for the real domain of the organization that has supposedly sent you the request. Never send your SSN via email if you’re not absolutely certain you’re dealing with a legitimate sender.Sharing your SSN via email is dangerous, even if the request is valid. You can’t control where your email might be forwarded, so you have no way of knowing which third parties might obtain your personal data. Only disclose your Social Security number when you’re certain it won’t be misused.

How to send SSN over email securely

Once you’ve verified that the request for your Social Security number is legitimate and you opt for sending it via email, you can choose one of three ways to do it safely:
  1. Password-protected email
  2. Password-protected attachment
  3. Encrypted email

How to send a password-protected email

Some email service providers offer the option of protecting your emails with a password—an excellent way to implement an additional layer of security while sending sensitive information like an SSN.Google is the only mainstream email service provider that supports password protection for emails. Other platforms, like Yahoo Mail and Outlook, require you to use third-party apps and extensions to enable this feature, which makes the situation more risky, considering another company may access your password and email messages.You can password-protect an email in Gmail by sending it in Confidential Mode. This mode prevents anyone without a password from reading your message. It also limits the options for the intended recipient because they can’t print, copy, or forward the email.You can also set an expiry date for your email or revoke access to it manually—convenient options for a message containing your SSN. For example, you can inform the recipient that they have a few minutes to verify your identity with your SSN, after which you’ll delete the email to prevent misuse.To turn on Confidential Mode, follow these steps:
  1. Open Gmail
  2. Click on Compose to start a new draft
  3. Click on the padlock icon in the bottom navigation bar
  4. Choose the message’s expiration date, if you want one
  5. Select the SMS Passcode option
  6. Enter the recipient’s phone number
Source: Gmail screenshot
The recipient must enter the passcode they receive via SMS before opening the email.While useful, Gmail’s Confidential Mode has two major downsides:
  1. The message is not encrypted, and hackers can still intercept it
  2. You must have the recipient’s phone number to implement password protection
Spyware for intercepting SMS messages has been widely available for years, and hackers can use it to learn the verification code if they have the sender’s or the recipient’s phone number.Gmail’s password protection is also impractical for official correspondence, as a request for your SSN typically comes from a government agency, bank, or another institution. You won’t know the phone number of the person addressing you on behalf of the organization.

How to send a password-protected attachment

Most document editors let you password-protect files. You can write your SSN in a PDF or DOC file and send it as an email attachment.To add a password to a PDF file in Adobe Acrobat, you must:
  1. Open the PDF
  2. Go to Tools
  3. Choose Protect
  4. Click on Encrypt
  5. Pick Encrypt with Password
  6. Enter the desired password into the prompt
If you’re using Microsoft Office, you can add a password to your Word document by following these steps:
  1. Open the Word document
  2. Open the File submenu in the top navigation bar
  3. Go to Info
  4. Click Protect Document
  5. Choose Encrypt with Password
  6. Enter the desired password
While password-protected files offer a higher level of security, passwords can still be cracked. A brute force attack from a powerful computer could crack a complex 8-character password in six hours.
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Send an encrypted email

Encryption is the strongest email security method, scrambling the contents of your messages and ensuring no one except the intended recipient can decrypt and read them. Mainstream email providers usually offer some type of encryption service, but different encryption types provide varying levels of protection.Check out the most common encryption types in the table below:
Type of encryption Description
In transitSecures emails en route between servers
At restProtects messages while resting on an email server
End-to-end encryption (E2EE) is the only method that provides complete protection of your message from the moment of sending until it reaches the recipient.E2EE scrambles emails at the device level, so they’re already protected by the time they reach a server, ensuring hackers attempting a cyberattack could never obtain your SSN.Unfortunately, mainstream email services like Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft provide standard encryption in transit to their users by default. You can only ensure complete email protection with a security-focused service like Skiff Mail, offering E2EE to all users.

Skiff Mail—the safest way to share personal information

Skiff's E2EE includes two keys:
  1. Public encryption key—Shared between the corresponding parties
  2. Private decryption key—Unique to the recipient and always stored on their device
As a result, no one but you and the intended recipient can access your emails—not even Skiff’s developers. Your data will never be misused for ad targeting or other unauthorized actions.This includes your login credentials—Skiff’s zero-knowledge policy ensures your username and password aren’t stored on its servers. Your login data can only be retrieved with a document generated and kept on your device.

Skiff offers a fully encrypted ecosystem

Skiff provides more than a secure way to send confidential information via email. The platform includes three other E2EE products:Besides E2EE, Skiff Pages also lets you password-protect any encrypted document for additional security. It only takes a few easy steps:
  1. Open Skiff Pages
  2. Navigate to the desired document
  3. Tap the three-dot icon in the top-right corner
  4. Click Add Lock
  5. Enter your desired password
All three products are available with a free Skiff account, but you can upgrade to one of its three paid tiers for additional cloud space, custom domains, and more email aliases.

Protect your email correspondence for free with Skiff

It takes only a few steps to create a Skiff account:
  1. Visit the Skiff signup page
  2. Pick your username and password
  3. Start using Skiff Mail and other E2EE-protected products

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