Identity theft is a major concern in the information age, and the threat is real: according to the Federal Trade Commission, complaints of identity theft and other forms of fraud have grown steadily each year. Thus, it is only natural—and prudent—to want assurance your information will remain safe.
Protecting yourself from identify theft online is actually fairly straightforward and with just a few precautions you can feel confident and secure as you search for a new job opportunity.
An identity thief needs specific information in order to hijack your identity. For example, account numbers / PINs and your social security number (SSN) should never be shared. Other data such as your driver's license number, tax form information, and marital status may seem harmless, but this information is actually a target of identity thieves.
Moreover, until you have actually been hired (or there is a need to conduct a background check), there is no reason that any employer (other than the Federal government) would need this information. If an employment website or email asks for this information as you apply, this should be a red flag. Additionally, reputable resume services will not ask for this information and will advise against providing it.
It is not uncommon for online job seekers to omit personal contact information like an address, phone number, or even a name from a posted resume. While it is true that an anonymous resume is safer from identity theft, it also may not generate interest from some employers. Rather than indicating prudence, it can be misinterpreted that the job seeker has something to hide.
When approaching resume writing, certain information is not considered to be "personally identifiable," which basically means that it is extremely unlikely that such information could be used by an identity thief against you. Examples include...
This information is always "safe" to share. Other information is usually safe provided you can be sure that the online system is secure. Do a search through the system: If you are able to bring up other people's resumes (as is the case for most online classifieds like Craigslist), then you probably shouldn't provide any information other than what is listed above. If the system is "closed" so that only subscribed employers can view resumes (like Monster or CareerBuilder), then there is very little danger in also including the following:
If an employer contacts you and asks for sensitive information (like your SSN), ask them why they need the information and don't hesitate to ask for an official form with the company's contact information on it. Or better yet, ask if you can stop by the office to pick up the information. The majority of background checks are conducted by a relatively small set of companies, and the official form a company sends you is likely traceable to one of these companies; often a simple Internet search is all that is needed.
At the end of the day, if your inquiries to a reputable employer are polite, they will be happy to verify their authenticity to you and they will not attempt to gather your personal information any earlier than they need it.