When Should You Give Out Your Social Security Number?
When you hear about social security numbers in the news, it’s usually related to identity theft. With all the fear surrounding the social security number, or SSN, you might be surprised to learn its humble origins. According to the Social Security Administration, it was created in 1936 for the simple purpose of tracking earning histories of workers in the U.S. Those earning histories were for determining Social Security benefit levels and entitlement. As the name suggests, social security numbers were just for social security uses.
So why are we constantly asked for it? Over time, our social security numbers started to be used more and more as a personal identifier. In 1971, a Social Security Administration task force deemed that this was not a “desirable” use for social security numbers. However, our social security number has practically become proof of our existence. The Social Security Administration states that you need a social security card to get a job. Who else can legally ask for your social security number?
Situations Where You’re Asked to Give Out Your Social Security Number
We get asked for our social security numbers so often, from online forms to credit applications, that it can be hard to know when it’s appropriate to give your number. It’s important to know what counts as legitimate scenarios to give out your number and what does not.
However, it can be murky as to when you should give out your SSN. According to the office of Xavier Becerra, the Attorney General of the state of California Department of Justice, there is not a law in place that prevents businesses from asking your social security number, and you can even be denied services if you do not provide it. Technically, the answer to “who can legally ask for social security number?” is everyone. That means it’s up to you to determine legitimate times to give out your SSN, though there are a few scenarios where it’s common and expected to give your social security number.
According to the Social Security Administration, you should make sure your employer has your correct social security number when you start a new job. Financial institutions should also have your SSN because of tax reporting purposes. Also, credit reporting companies use it to identify your credit record.
Government agencies can also require you to furnish your SSN, like tax agencies, welfare offices, and the DMV. Many places will have a disclosure form telling you if providing your social security number is optional or required, the agency’s authority to require that number, and what it will be used for.
If it feels like you don’t need to give your SSN, you probably don’t need to. For instance, your doctor’s offices, stores, schools, and airlines most likely fall under the optional category. If you aren’t comfortable giving out your SSN, politely ask if there’s another way to identify yourself. Some places may take a driver’s license, voter ID, insurance cards or another form of identification. Some banks and credit card companies allow you to set up passwords.
Questions to Ask Someone If They’re Asking for Your Social Security Number
If you’re being asked to provide your SSN in a situation where it’s not legally required, you can ask a few questions that may help them back off. The key here is to be firm, but not confrontational. You’re just trying to understand why an SSN is required and if there are alternatives.
- Why does the company need this information and what makes this a requirement?
- How do you keep this information confidential?
- What happens if I don’t provide my SSN?
- Is there an alternative to providing my social security number? (Such as a driver’s license or another form of identification.)
Why It’s Important to Protect Your Social Security Number
Sometimes it feels like all you hear about in the news is how identity thieves can wreak havoc on your life if they get your SSN. It’s a legitimate concern. USA Today reports that identity thieves can use your social security number to open financial accounts, get medical care, file fraudulent tax refunds, they can give it out when they’ve been arrested, and they can steal benefits like unemployment. Take steps to make sure your SSN is safe:
- Regularly monitor your credit for suspicious activity like loans you didn’t take out.
Protect your physical card by not carrying it around in your wallet.
If you have documents that contain your social security number or other personal and financial information, make sure to properly shred them.
If you find out your number has been compromised, you can take steps to secure it.
Also, you can learn more about protecting seniors in our scam, fraud and identity theft protection guide. If you’ve been the victim of social security theft, we have steps that can help you replace your card and protect your number from fraudulent activity.