Should you keep your driver's license number private?

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Is it true that you should keep your driver's license number private? Can hackers use that information to steal your identity?

Glenn Huestis, via e-mail

I remember when people commonly had their driver's license number printed on their checks as a convenience. Those days are long gone: It's no longer safe to share that number.

The chart below lists various private numbers and other data that you should be wary about providing to strangers--on the Web or anywhere else. Revealing such details can put both your identity and your money at risk. Never put this information in an e-mail or instant message, never reveal it over the phone (unless both you and the person on the other end are using cell or landline phones--not VoIP), and never enter it in a form located on an unsecured Web site (look for "https://" to the left of the address to confirm that the page is secure).

Even on a secure site, you should be wary of sharing any of this information. Does the site need the info and have a right to it? Don't enter it at a site that you reached by clicking an e-mail link (for that matter, never click e-mail links; instead, go to the site by typing its correct URL into the address bar and pressing <Enter>).

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Information to Keep Private

Almost Never Provide Your...
Driver's license Though your state's Department of Motor Vehicles site may require you to enter this information, no other site should
Social Security number You can't check your credit rating at the sites of Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion without giving this information. No other site (except that of the Social Security Administration itself) should require it.
Very Infrequently Provide Your...
Bank account number Your bank will probably require this number when it sets up your online banking, as will any credit-card accounts you set up with automatic payments from the bank account. After that, no other sites should ask for or need this information.
Passwords Only a site you're logging in to should ask for a password. Don't share one with any other site. Also, use a different password for each site, and avoid using real words in your passwords. If the resulting smorgasbord of passwords becomes confusing, use a password manager such as Password Safe.
Somewhat More Often (but Cautiously) Provide Your...
Credit card number You can't shop online without it, but be careful with sites that you don't know by reputation. If your bank offers temporary or virtual credit card numbers, use them (browse for more on disposable card numbers). Or keep a separate credit card account for purchases at sites you're not comfortable with.
Mother's maiden name This information could be used, along with other data, to steal your identity, so be careful. Some Web sites ask for this name to confirm release of your password if you forget it, but we recommend that you use other information, such as your high school or your pet's name, for this purpose, when the site allows you to do so.
Home address As with credit card numbers, you can't entirely avoid sharing your home address when you're making a purchase, but do so only when necessary: Identity thieves find this information quite useful.
Date of birth If bad guys get hold of this one, you can't change it (no matter how much you might want to). Many sites that ask for your birthdate do so only for marketing purposes, so fudge away. Others ask for it in order to verify your age.
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