Middle River, MD asked in Civil Litigation for Maryland

Q: Is it legit for a lawyer to ask for a social security number through email?

My boyfriend and I haven't been together that long. He states that he needs someone on his next of kin paperwork. He wants to put me on there. The lawyer emailed me and said that he needs name, address, picture of ID and social security number to run security checks and verification to make sure I am who I say I am. Because it is a very substantial amount of inheritance!

Related Topics:
2 Lawyer Answers
Kenesha A Raeford
Kenesha A Raeford

A: Research the law firm and confirm the name, identity, and reputation of the attorney. If it comes back legit, then you have nothing to worry about. You can also search the attorney's name in the Maryland case search to see what kind of cases they have handled (keep in mind not all attorneys practice in court, but if this one claims to do so you should be able to find him or her in the case search). Double-check with your boyfriend about the attorney's name and information, and get confirmation from him that it is okay to speak with the attorney. Finally, it is possible that the attorney is requesting the sensitive information without taking into account the lack of security of sending it via e-mail. While that is concerning, it's not a cause for alarm. Simply, call the attorney's office after you have verified his or her identity, and speak with them about the use of the information. Ask them to explain to you their confidentiality policy, etc., and then if you feel comfortable you can let the attorney know you will provide them with the information over the phone only. You should request copies of the document that the attorney is submitting, and if you don't feel comfortable receiving them via e-mail, ask the attorney to mail them to an address you feel comfortable sharing. Again, I do not suggest that you send sensitive and personally identifying information via e-mail. If you feel comfortable with sharing your information over the phone after you've done some verification, then it should be fine to do so.

Maryland case search link: https://casesearch.courts.state.md.us/casesearch/

Best of Luck!

Cedulie Renee Laumann
Cedulie Renee Laumann
  • Crownsville, MD
  • Licensed in Maryland

A: It really isn't clear what you mean by "next of kin paperwork." Do you mean the attorney is designating you in estate planning documents? While it is very common to request addresses and phone numbers of beneficiaries, it would be quite unusual to ask for a beneficiary's photo ID or run "background checks" just to designate you in planning documents. Sometimes financial institutions will ask for a beneficiary's SSN.

As another attorney posted, if getting any questionable requests from someone who says they are a lawyer first verify that they are in fact a licensed attorney (in MD check with the Maryland Court of Appeals to see if the lawyer is licensed in this state and that the phone numbers, etc. match). Some attorneys who practice estate planning will not actively handle other types of cases (litigation) so they may not show up in the Maryland Judiciary Case Search which lists attorneys who have handled litigation cases in Maryland courts (but does not list attorneys handling estates). Every attorney though will show up in the Court's list of licensed attorneys: https://www.mdcourts.gov/attysearch

If this request in fact comes from an actual licensed attorney it is perfectly reasonable to ask them why they need the information. It is also perfectly reasonable to insist that a full SSN only be relayed through encrypted/password protected documents and not through email.

While not legal advice, I hope this general information helps!

Justia Ask a Lawyer is a forum for consumers to get answers to basic legal questions. Any information sent through Justia Ask a Lawyer is not secure and is done so on a non-confidential basis only.

The use of this website to ask questions or receive answers does not create an attorney–client relationship between you and Justia, or between you and any attorney who receives your information or responds to your questions, nor is it intended to create such a relationship. Additionally, no responses on this forum constitute legal advice, which must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case. You should not act upon information provided in Justia Ask a Lawyer without seeking professional counsel from an attorney admitted or authorized to practice in your jurisdiction. Justia assumes no responsibility to any person who relies on information contained on or received through this site and disclaims all liability in respect to such information.

Justia cannot guarantee that the information on this website (including any legal information provided by an attorney through this service) is accurate, complete, or up-to-date. While we intend to make every attempt to keep the information on this site current, the owners of and contributors to this site make no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to from this site.