The Social Security Administration advises the public to be very careful with Social Security numbers.

They caution people not to routinely carry their card in a wallet or purse, instead leaving it at home in a safe place. They warn people not to give out their Social Security number too easily to anyone who asks for it. They advise asking why the number is needed, how it will be used and what would happen if you refuse to comply.

That’s because a dishonest person with a Social Security number can do a lot of damage to the person to whom it was issued.

Someone who is not legally allowed to work could use your number to get a job using your identity, creating havoc for you at tax time. The number could also be used to apply for unemployment, borrow money or otherwise cash in on your credit and good name.

So while we are receiving so much information about protecting our confidential Social Security numbers, it is galling to read that Social Security numbers are among the data that was stolen from the Anthem insurance company’s computer files, exposing 80 million Americans (and 300,000 Mainers) to identity theft.

Anthem is offering two years of free credit monitoring and identity theft repair services to customers affected by the breach, but that may be too late to protect millions of people from real harm.

The country’s second-largest health insurance company is under investigation by the FBI, federal health care officials and state insurance commissioners, and may face consequences for its inability to secure the data, but that won’t help the people whose identities are stolen.

Crimes like this once again make the case for not putting too much information in a single place. The Social Security Administration warns us not to carry our card in our wallet alongside our driver’s licenses and credit cards because losing that wallet could give an identity thief more than enough information to rob you blind. But corporations that are supposed to be sophisticated are essentially putting our Social Security numbers in virtual wallets, alongside our birth dates and other infomation.

That practice should stop. Social Security numbers should be reserved for people and their employers to generate accurate tax records. Insurance companies should create their own identification systems, so they don’t expose customers to such negative consequences when the company loses track of their information.

Americans have become inured to these data breaches, probably because banks absorb fraudulent credit card charges made against customers who are aware enough to challenge them. But those costs are spread out over the system and end up costing everyone.

Anthem is being responsible now that the confidential information has been stolen. Companies like this should be held accountable so that next time, they act more responsibly before it’s too late.