Dangers of giving out your Social Security Number

It has become so common for consumers to simply hand over their Social Security number, without question, that many consumers think they have no option when asked.

From prospective employers and doctor’s offices to service providers, cell phone and utility companies, it is standard for your Social Security number to be requested.

But do you really have to provide your Social Security number in exchange for services? Not really. However, saying no is only half the battle. The real challenge is convincing the people requesting your Social Security number that you really don’t have to give it to them.

Original Purpose of a Social Security Number

The Social Security number was originally created to keep track of Americans’ earnings for tax purposes and to monitor benefits paid under the Social Security system. However, the purpose has evolved and the Social Security number is now used as a form of identification.

Who must have your Social Security Number

There are certain instances under the law where you must give out your Social Security number:

  • Anyone who reports income to the IRS such as an employer, the lottery commission or even a casino if you win money.
  • Companies that provide you with credit such as banks, lenders, auto finance company, credit card issuers.
  • Government or State Agencies providing you with benefits such as unemployment benefits, welfare or food stamps.

Entities that really do not need your Social Security number

Requesting a Social Security number is so commonplace that many consumers comply without questioning why that information is needed. A new doctor or dentist, filling out school, little league or camp records for your children can be instances where your Social Security number is requested. But is really not needed.

Think of a job applicant who has not even been granted an interview, why would a potential employer need a Social Security number at this stage of the application process?

When someone requests your Social Security number, you should ask them why they need it, what will happen if you don’t provide it, and if there is an alternative form of identification that can be used.

Refusing to give out your Social Security number

You can always refuse to give out your Social Security number to someone who is not required by law to have it, but be prepared to get a denial of service. Suggest other forms of identification such as a driver’s license or passport.

If you do decide to provide your Social Security number ask questions about how it will be protected because companies and governments seem to have a really tough time of holding onto people’s Social Security numbers.

Security breaches are increasing, even for people who you think would have the most secure personal information, such as First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder.

Dangers of giving out even the last 4-digits of your SSN

The first 3-digits of your SSN represent the geographic region you were in when you applied for the number. The second 2-digits represent a group number that is assigned for administrative purposes. And the last 4-digits are the only part of the Social Security number that makes your number unique from all others. This means giving out the last 4-digits of your Social Security number is riskier than any other part of your number.

Giving out a partial number is no safer than giving out the entire Social Security number. Unlike credit card fraud where charges can be run up but you’ll be aware of it when you get your next bill or are alerted of unusual activity by your credit card issuer, stealing a SSN is totally different.

When a Social Security number is stolen, an identity thief can open new accounts in your name and you may not know for months, even years or until you get denied for credit. Identity thieves opening new accounts rarely pay the bills they incur. Their goal is to make as many charges as possible and walk away. Straightening out identity theft when someone steals your Social Security number is a lot more complex and time consuming.

Always exercise caution when asked for your Social Security number and be careful about sharing your number. You should ask why your number is needed, how it will be used and what will happen if you refuse. The answers to these questions can help you decide if you want to give out your Social Security number.

7 places your social security number is not mandatory

  • Doctor and dentist intake forms
  • Grocery Store Rewards Card Program
  • Retail Store Rewards Card Program
  • Child’s School Records
  • Little League Program
  • Summer Camp Program
  • Airlines
 

4 thoughts on “Dangers of giving out your Social Security Number”

    1. Yes, it is legal for the realty company to request your SSN when you agree to be a co-signor on a rental contract. A co-signor has equal responsibility in honoring the rental contract. That means you are responsible for unpaid rent, property damage, cleaning and repair costs, and any other item imposed under the rental contract — even if you don’t live in the apartment.

  1. Hello,

    I’m a taxpayer in the US. An insurance company in Beijing recently asked me to provide my taxpayer identification number to them in order for my mom to withdraw the money (that she stored there under my name) from that company to pay my dad’s treatment fee for his lung cancer.

    I checked around with my friends, and checked my W2-form and learned that my taxpayer identification number is my social security number. However, I know that social security number is very private and people usually do not let others know about their social security number here in the US.

    I asked that company in Beijing whether I need to pay tax for the money that my mom stored there under my name and the answer was no. Then, I asked why they still need my taxpayer’s information (social security number) and the reply was they need to give this information (my social security number) to a bank in Beijing to fulfill some international requirement.

    Further, I was reminded last year (in April and May), I encountered frauds against my credit card, debit card and bank account (my credit card and debit card were used by others I didn’t know, and I was given a false job offer and a false check which caused my bank account number to be disclosed and put my bank account in danger), but thank God, God protected my bank account, debit card and credit card through staff members at my bank and credit card company.

    This time around, when this company in Beijing asked me for my SSN and told me they would give my SSN to a bank in Beijing later, I have to be very careful (especially because what happened to me around this time last year). I need to consult you–experts in SSN. Please let me know whether what that insurance company asked for from me (my SSN) make sense or not, and whether disclosing my SSN to that company might cause problems or danger to me or my finance here in the US, and if you were me, whether you would disclose your SSN to that company and how you would help your family withdraw the money they stored there under your name (to pay the treatment fee of your family member).

    Thanks,

    Jane

    1. (Disclaimer: I am not an attorney and suggest you seek proper legal advice.)

      You are not legally required to provide your SSN to a U.S. company unless one of the following is true:

      • You will engage in a transaction that requires notification to the Internal Revenue Service; or

      • You will initiate financial transaction subject to Federal Customer Identification Program Rules.

      There’s no law that prevents a U.S. company from requesting your SSN, however, if you refuse to provide your SSN, the U.S. company may choose not to do business with you.

      I can only suggest you contact the Social Security Administration for advice on how you should proceed: https://www.ssa.gov/accessibility/

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