I won one of the ME3Missions prizes and received an email from the SE Community Developer (I assume). The typical questions like address etc were asked, but also requested that I fill out a W9 form.

1) Is this legit?

2) What is the reason for this (I was told "for tax reasons", but that is kind of vague)?

3) The form asks for our Social Security Number. I am suppose to email the form back, but I do not feel comfortable (no one should) about sending this over via an insecure method. How am I suppose to securely send this back to SE and know that it'll stay secure when SE receives it?

(I actually never received this form until today)

From http://taxes.about.com/od/taxglossary/qt/W9.htm

Be sure to transmit the W-9 securely. The W-9 contains sensitive information which should be kept private and secure. Don't send your completed W-9 as an unsecured or unencrypted email attachment. Instead use secure methods of transmission, such as hand delivery, mail, or encrypted file attachments to an email.

  • I've actually heard a couple folks talking about how they didn't want to give out their SSN's, so I don't think you're alone there (though Lauren or Seth would have to confirm). – Raven Dreamer Mar 29 '12 at 20:32
  • The form mentions a TIN as an alternative to the SSN, I've no clue about the US tax code but that number might be a safer alternative. – Mad Scientist Mar 29 '12 at 20:34
  • It defines TIN as For individuals, this is your social security number (SSN) – Zeno Mar 29 '12 at 20:35
  • Yeah, looks like that isn't an alternative. I only read the form far enough to know that I don't need to fill it out. – Mad Scientist Mar 29 '12 at 20:38
  1. Speaking as a Stack Exchange Employee, yes this is fully legitimate.

  2. From: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/i1099msc.pdf

    File Form 1099-MISC, Miscellaneous Income, for each person to whom you have paid during the year [...]

    • At least $600 in rents, services (including parts and materials), prizes and awards, other income payments, medical and health care payments, crop insurance proceeds, cash payments for fish (or other aquatic life) you purchase from anyone engaged in the trade or business of catching fish, or, generally, the cash paid from a notional principal contract to an individual, partnership, or estate;

    A W9 is provided for us so that at the end of the year, for any person(s) whose prizes we give out totaling over $600 USD, we can then properly fill out a 1099. Whether or not the prize you just won in this contest is up to that amount, if you plan on participating on future promotions, it is simpler to collect the data now than to wait until it does become an issue. As such, Lauren sent the request for a W9 to everyone who won in this contest (but as explained here, you only need to fill it out if you're a US citizen or resident alien).

  3. Having been in exactly your position when I had to send in my W9 (though in my case, it was to get hired), I ended up faxing the form over instead of emailing a response. I recommend that route if email is uncomfortable. Our fax number is: (212-785-4578).

  • 1
    I think the "fish" part is especially appropriate. Certainly at least part of the reason I'm earning prizes is for fishing advice – agent86 Mar 29 '12 at 20:58
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    Great answer @GraceNote – Lauren Mar 29 '12 at 21:01
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    also, our mailing address is an option for those who do not have access to fax machines or scanners. StackExchange, 55 Broadway, 26th floor, New York, NY 10006 – zompz Mar 29 '12 at 21:01
  • Thanks Grace. I would consider faxing, but I don't have a fax machine and I normally use 3rd party web fax tools... but won't in this case for security. I might try mailing it, but I was told everything was due today. :/ – Zeno Mar 29 '12 at 21:04
  • @Zeno you can mail it in. We'll still order you your prize since you contacted us before the deadline. Just shoot me an email so we can work out ordering. – Lauren Mar 30 '12 at 14:15

I'm not 100% up on my tax code/laws, but I believe that Stack Exchange has to list you on their taxes next year, assuming they gave you a large enough gift. The purpose of the W-9 is to get enough of your information to disclose this gift to the government at the proper time.

The request itself is legitimate, assuming it was from someone named Lauren - you can also see her clarify some of the rules (since it only applies to US folks) in this post:

Mass Effect 3: Missions on Gaming.SE

  • #3 is really my major concern. – Zeno Mar 29 '12 at 20:33
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    @Zeno I'll get to that, I'm just getting the bigger information for #2 while I'm at it. – Grace Note Mar 29 '12 at 20:35
  • Thanks. I understand Lauren is a real person here at SE, but I was more concerned about email address spoofing etc. – Zeno Mar 29 '12 at 20:38
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    @Zeno, I scanned it after filling it out and emailed it in. There's probably some really ultra secure method of doing it by exchanging public keys or somesuch, but I figure if someone wants to know my social security number real bad, intercepting this email is probably not the easiest way of getting it. – agent86 Mar 29 '12 at 20:56

These forms always (and should) throw a red flag up for people concerned about privacy.

As stated above the request is totally legitimate, and I have had similar prize claim forms sent to be by Intel when I was participating in their Retail Edge training program.

(Unlike StackExchange, Intel doesn't understand the phrase "I'm not a US citizen, you're shipping this prize to Canada") :)

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