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Is it safe to send an email attachment containing my SSN?
Old 05-16-2014, 08:03 AM   #1
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Is it safe to send an email attachment containing my SSN?

I need to scan and attach to an email some documents that contain my SSN. I am not worried about the destination, only the email exposure.

Is this safe? I have never become clear about what can be hacked and what not, but I certainly do not want my SSN floating around.

Thanks!

Ha
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Old 05-16-2014, 08:08 AM   #2
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It's probably already floating around, they are not hard to find.

You can encrypt your email. You can put your documents in a password protected zip file. PDF documents can be password protected as well.
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Old 05-16-2014, 08:11 AM   #3
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This article gives a couple of better alternatives.

How Can I Securely Send Sensitive Tax Docs to My Tax Preparer?
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Old 05-16-2014, 08:11 AM   #4
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It's unlikely that someone would intercept the email and find your SSN in the scanned images (searching an image for text is much more difficult than searching a text file). Even though it's unlikely that anyone would intercept the email, I would still send the documents in a password-protected zip file. Send the password in a separate email. I usually say something like "The password is your last name in lowercase plus your four-digit phone extension" or a similar way of constructing a password from things the recipient knows.
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Old 05-16-2014, 09:46 AM   #5
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I had a similar situation the other day and did a fax. My fax machine is broke but I was able to send my fax from a local store.

That said, I'm not sure I needed to be that concerned about it given it was a scan but I like the fact that a fax isn't sitting on a server or hard drive somewhere. As I understand it once the fax goes and is accepted on the other end there isn't a copy anywhere.
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Old 05-16-2014, 11:18 AM   #6
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I would never send such sensitive information via email. PDF files are PostScript, which means that often they contain clear text along with formatting instructions. Scanned images are only slightly more secure than plain text. I'm sure you've seen those CAPTCHA images where you have to try and read some mangled text and enter it. That's because images can be automatically scanned for text.

You even have to be a bit wary of using fax these days. Instead of using a physical fax machine, some businesses and individuals use a virtual fax service where your fax transmission is received by a service provider's computer, then emailed (usually unencrypted) to the recipient.

I had something similar happen to me with a credit card. I had made an online reservation for an independent historical inn. They used a third party card processing service, with a typical secure web page where I entered my information. I later received an email confirmation from the inn, which included the email they received from the processing service with all my information, including full credit card number and CVV2 code in the clear! This defeated the purpose of having a secure web page in the first place. Needless to say, I let them know what I thought of their service.
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Old 05-16-2014, 11:29 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by haha View Post
I need to scan and attach to an email some documents that contain my SSN. I am not worried about the destination, only the email exposure.

Is this safe? I have never become clear about what can be hacked and what not, but I certainly do not want my SSN floating around.
If I had to email, I would scan with the PDF option, and encrypt.

Sometimes there might be a secure upload option, as for Vanguard, USAA, etc.
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Old 05-16-2014, 11:31 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pb4uski View Post
I had a similar situation the other day and did a fax. My fax machine is broke but I was able to send my fax from a local store.

That said, I'm not sure I needed to be that concerned about it given it was a scan but I like the fact that a fax isn't sitting on a server or hard drive somewhere. As I understand it once the fax goes and is accepted on the other end there isn't a copy anywhere.
If the fax machine at your local store is a standalone device, your probably right about the sending end. Some fax devices like my multipurpose fax/copy/scan device actually scan your pages into memory, then transmit them from there, but I don't think that can be recalled afterward.

The recipient could have a fax machine that's a networked device, which means they could be storing what you sent on a server. The risk there depends on the security measures they take (or don't take).

If the recipient is using a virtual fax service, see my previous post about the danger there.
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Old 05-16-2014, 11:37 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by Cat-tirement View Post
If the fax machine at your local store is a standalone device, your probably right about the sending end. Some fax devices like my multipurpose fax/copy/scan device actually scan your pages into memory, then transmit them from there, but I don't think that can be recalled afterward.

The recipient could have a fax machine that's a networked device, which means they could be storing what you sent on a server. The risk there depends on the security measures they take (or don't take).

If the recipient is using a virtual fax service, see my previous post about the danger there.
The fax at the sending end was old and did not scan into memory and then send (but it did buffer about a page before sending). While I don't know for sure about the receiving end it was being sent to the local office of my U.S. Senator so I'll roll the dice on that end.
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Old 05-16-2014, 11:41 AM   #10
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If I had to email, I would scan with the PDF option, and encrypt.
If you're referring to a password protected PDF, that has a history of being breakable. If you're referring to a separate strong encryption mechanism, that's much better.

Quote:
Originally Posted by target2019 View Post
Sometimes there might be a secure upload option, as for Vanguard, USAA, etc.
This is my preferred method if it is available. However, small businesses and individuals are unlikely to have such a service.
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Old 05-16-2014, 11:45 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by Cat-tirement View Post
If you're referring to a password protected PDF, that has a history of being breakable. If you're referring to a separate strong encryption mechanism, that's much better.



This is my preferred method if it is available. However, small businesses and individuals are unlikely to have such a service.
Full encryption from within Acrobat...
Of course you need a password to unlock.
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Old 05-16-2014, 12:30 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by Cat-tirement View Post

You even have to be a bit wary of using fax these days. Instead of using a physical fax machine, some businesses and individuals use a virtual fax service where your fax transmission is received by a service provider's computer, then emailed (usually unencrypted) to the recipient.

I had something similar happen to me with a credit card. I had made an online reservation for an independent historical inn. They used a third party card processing service, with a typical secure web page where I entered my information. I later received an email confirmation from the inn, which included the email they received from the processing service with all my information, including full credit card number and CVV2 code in the clear! This defeated the purpose of having a secure web page in the first place. Needless to say, I let them know what I thought of their service.
Great point about virtual fax machines, I hadn't thought of that although I knew the services existed.

To the OP, keep in mind that password-protection is NOT encryption. I would encrypt such information and not rely on sending it as a password-protected attachment.
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Old 05-16-2014, 12:55 PM   #13
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As usual, this is a lot more complicated than it appeared at first glance.

So I did an end run, and sent it by Fed-Ex. Cost a little more, but unless they rob the delivery I am safe.

Thanks for all the very well informed suggestions.

Ha
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