Who Really Needs Your Social Security Number?

by Emily Guy Birken · 5 comments

We all know we need to protect our Social Security numbers from identity thieves. But what about your doctor, your supermarket, your cell phone service provider, and your child’s school? Even though you can (generally) assume that all of those service providers are on the up-and-up, giving out your Social Security number to everyone who asks for it just increases the risk that your data might be compromised.

So who are you required to give Social Security information to? And what can you do to avoid handing out that information when it’s unnecessary?

Here’s what you need to know about keeping your Social Security number private when everyone is asking for it:

When It’s Mandatory to Provide Your SSN

There are some instances when you’re legally required to provide your Social Security number, but this mandatory list is relatively short. It includes:

  • Credit applications
  • Cash transactions over $10,000
  • Applications for certain federal benefits, including Medicare and Medicaid
  • Military paperwork
  • Interactions with the Department of Motor Vehicles

Other than these specific situations, you’re not required to hand over your digits.

You Can Provide Alternative Forms of Identification

Unfortunately, just because you’re not legally required to give a business or service provider your Social Security number doesn’t mean that refusing to disclose it will be easy. For many businesses, having your SSN on record means they have a way to trace you in case you don’t pay their bills — and they might refuse to do business with anyone who doesn’t want to disclose.

However, in many cases, you can provide alternative information such as your driver’s license or other photo ID, birth certificate, utility bill, bank statement, credit card bill, or pay stub.

What Happens If You Decline to Disclose It?

The trick to keeping your Social Security number to yourself is knowing why your service provider is asking for it. For instance, doctors and dentists generally want your SSN on file on the off chance that you may die while under their care, since they’ll need your number to fill out a death certificate. Instead of disclosing the number itself, you can provide your doctor with an emergency contact who can provide your Social Security number in the event of your death.

If a business asks for your SSN, you can ask why they need it and whether they’d accept an alternative form of ID.

In addition, according to Karen J. Bannan of CreditCards.com, “One of the best ways to get out of giving your Social Security number to someone is to simply overlook it on your paperwork.” In many cases, that will be the end of it. But if you’re asked again for the information by a non-mandatory disclosure business, you can feel confident in asking why it’s necessary and sticking to your guns. If you’re unable to reach an agreement with the first person you talk to, feel free to take it to a supervisor.

The Bottom Line

It’s up to you to protect your Social Security number, which means you’ll have to be vigilant in refusing to disclose it when it’s unnecessary. While keeping your Social Security number to yourself might be a bit of a pain, it’s infinitely easier than dealing with a stolen identity.

Do you ever decline to disclose your social security number?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • You should see your Social Security number as important as your bank account number, computer passwords, login information to the various social media etc. There are always people trying to get hold of them and exploited it for fraudulent purposes.

  • James says:

    Emily,

    Good posting. I think the reason why use of SS numbers has become widespread is because its an easy way of doing record keeping and information management. Basically if everyone has a unique ID and you need to match records (say with banking and tax records) then using the SS# is very practical for these kinds of things.

  • Gwen says:

    What about employers who do a background check and/or send you a W2?
    Anyone who performs an official background check for contracts like rental agreements? (you should get a copy of the results too)
    State Unemployment Office? They send you a W2
    IRS?
    Department of Homeland Security? (in particular if you apply for their GOES/Global Entry program)

    I’m not sure, but I believe these are all acceptable reasons for your SS#.

  • R. Cuomo says:

    Medicare? Guess what my number is for that program. Guard your SS#? Not in a society where only billionaires can afford their privacy.

  • Phil says:

    Good article, but I think it fails to mention something very important. Everyone should freeze their credit. You can temporarily thaw it during the times that you need to borrow money, or have credit check check done for whatever reason.

    It may seem cumbersome to do this, but once you get started it is actually pretty easy and way less cumbersome than having your identity stolen.

    http://www.clarkhoward.com/news/clark-howard/personal-finance-credit/credit-freeze-and-thaw-guide/nFbL/

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