Your Social Security number is one of the most important keys to your financial health. It’s a unique identifier that lenders use to assess your creditworthiness. It’s also exactly what a would-be thief needs to apply for a credit card, mortgage, car loan or job in your name.
If you’re like most Americans, it’s also something you give out all too frequently and often, unnecessarily.
Case in point: A recent Javelin Strategy & Research report — their ID Fraud Survey — found that, among identity theft victims, 38 percent said the perpetrator had obtained their Social Security number and used it in the crime. It’s certainly logical to state that you could eliminate 38 percent of your risk of identity theft by limiting access to your Social Security number.
Also, given the massive government and corporate database breaches lately, it’s equally safe to assume that someone – other than you – has your SSN info.
So, when is it mandatory to provide your true SSN and when is it not required? See our chart below, developed by credit reporting agency, Experian.
WHO CAN, CAN’T REQUIRE YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER
Credit applications Doctor and dentist intake forms
Cash transactions over $10,000 Supermarkets
When applying for certain federal benefits Drugstores
Military paperwork Preschools
Department of Motor Vehicles Airlines
‘Your Social Security number, please’
Still, saying you are going to limit access to your SSN and doing it are two different things. From the dentist’s office to your child’s pre-school, nearly every application or information form we fill out these days requests your Social Security number. Shopping stores may ask for it, too, when accepting a check for payment or before issuing check cashing privileges. Potential employers also need it but it is important to remember that you should provide them your SSN only to process your E-Verify submission in anticipation of being employed at this company. If you are not hired, request that your paperwork, identifying your SSN, be returned or destroyed. Why would you want it lingering in someone else’s possession and have no control over who may have access to it? You may also be asked for it by car dealerships, pawnshops, drugstores — even at the airport, should you lose your luggage. It’s amazing how prolific this practice has become. (A few years ago I was placing my mother’s things in storage, and I was asked for my SSN. I denied the request. It was wholly unnecessary for the transaction at hand.)
Just because someone asks for it doesn’t mean you have to comply, especially since there are only a handful of organizations that actually have a valid need for it. For instance, anytime you’re applying for credit — for a new credit card, a loan, new utility or cellular service — the creditor will need your Social Security number to run a credit check. You’ll also need to provide it if you are applying for federal or local government benefits such as Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, unemployment insurance or disability. The local motor vehicle department, thanks to the USA PATRIOT Act, has the legal right to ask for Social Security numbers, too. In addition, when you complete a cash transaction totaling more than $10,000 you’ll be required to provide your number so that transaction can be reported to the IRS.
Medical professionals have their own reasons, too. As morbid as this is, should you die while under a doctor’s care, they are required to put your Social Security number on the death certificate.
Still, fulfilling noncredit-related requests — even medical-related requests — is purely optional. The problem however is that while you have the right to refuse to disclose your SSN, a business owner has a right to deny doing business with you. Understandably, they want reassurance should they have to track you down for not paying a bill.
Gracefully saying ‘no’
One of the best ways to get out of giving your Social Security number to someone is to simply overlook it on your paperwork. It’ll probably not be questioned If so, however, simply ask why they need it. But again, be prepared to be denied service if you refuse to provide it.
In the worst case scenario — when you absolutely can’t get out of it, but you still don’t feel comfortable – make up a number. Just make sure you write it down and don’t inadvertently steal someone else’s identity. The easiest way to ensure that is by putting in two zeros for the middle digits. No Social Security Number have double zeros in that section.
It’s high time we take back control of our personal identifiers and especially one as important as our SSN which follows us from cradle to grave. Just be smart and non-confrontational about it.
BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.
As always, stay safe.