Among the lowest forms of life on the planet are scam artists who prey on job hunters.

Job hunters tell me they’re afraid to fill out required application forms that ask for their Social Security numbers. They’ve read about identity theft and don’t want to surrender their numbers, no matter how much they want the job.

I’ve also heard from people who have received phone calls, supposedly from job recruiters, who raised their hopes — along with asking for their nine digits. Some smelled trouble and hung up; one said she got suspicious too late and fears her number will be used fraudulently.

Security experts wish hiring protocols would work this way: Employers ask for a prospective employee’s Social Security number only after a conditional job offer is made, when it’s time to do a thorough background check.

Sadly, that isn’t happening, and no one is holding employers’ feet to the fire to change. That leaves the field ripe for scammers who figure that job hunters are so used to revealing their personal information that no red flags go up.

Many human resource consultants and employment law attorneys advise employers to ask for Social Security numbers only when they’re ready to investigate select, viable job candidates. But that advice is sacrificed in favor of expediency. Hirers say it’s quicker and easier to get the information in initial applications.

No system is guaranteed safe, but job hunters generally can trust company-specific online application forms. Look for the closed-lock security icon on the screen. Other prejob offer requests for your personal info should be treated with care.

Phone call or email requests for your number should be declined. Say that you want the job but will share your number when you are a finalist for hire. Then share it directly with the employer in a mutually secure way.

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