ITRC Fact Sheet 140 – Social Security Number FAQs
This guide will cover:
- Situations which may require providing SSN and why
- The Significance of the Numbers (How the Social Security Number is composed and why the last 4 numbers are “unique”)
- Frequently asked questions
Situations which may require providing SSN and why
The ITRC is frequently asked by consumers about the appropriate time and reason to provide one’s SSN. You should only provide your SSN in the following situations:
- Opening new financial accounts or lines of credit
- Official employment purposes
- Governmental purposes such as taxes or benefits
Ask these questions:
- Why does the company/agency need the information (what law or reason make this a requirement)?
- What will happen if I don’t provide it?
- Is there is an alternative to providing SSN? Can you show a driver’s license or attach a password to an account number for identification purposes?
Based on the answers, you can make a knowledgeable decision regarding your actions. If a business or other enterprise asks for your SSN, you can refuse to give it. However, that may mean doing without the purchase or service.
You may be asked for your SSN when applying for a job. In some cases, a company may allow you to write “will provide during interview” in the space for your SSN on a job application. Others may refuse to interview you, costing you a job opportunity.
According to the Social Security Administration’s website, these are a list of some situations where a SSN might be requested (Reference 1 below):
Internal Revenue Service for tax returns and federal loans;
Employers for wage and tax reporting purposes;
States for the school lunch program;
Financial institutions for monetary transactions;
Veterans Administration as a hospital admission number;
Department of Labor for workers’ compensation;
Department of Education for Student Loans;
Entities that administer any tax, general public assistance, motor vehicle or drivers license law;
child support enforcement;
commercial drivers’ licenses;
Temporary Assistance to Needy Families; or
U.S. Treasury for U.S. Savings Bonds
“The Privacy Act regulates the use of Social Security numbers by government agencies. When a federal, state, or local government agency asks an individual to disclose his or her Social Security number, the Privacy Act requires the agency to inform the person of the following: the statutory or other authority for requesting the information; whether disclosure is mandatory or voluntary; what uses will be made of the information; and the consequences, if any, of failure to provide the information. “
For more detailed information, the SSA recommends the publication Your Social Security Number and Card .
The Significance of the Numbers (References2 & 3)
The digits in the Social Security Number allow for the orderly assignment of numbers. The number is divided into three parts: the area, group and serial numbers.
The nine-digit Social Security number is divided into three parts—
- The first three digits are the area number. If your Social Security number was assigned before 1972 when Social Security cards were issued by local offices, the area number reflects the state where you applied for your number. If your number was assigned in 1972 or later when we began issuing Social Security cards centrally, the area number reflects the state as determined by the ZIP code in the mailing address on your application for the number.
- The middle two digits are the group number. It has no specific geographic or data significance but merely serve to break the number into conveniently sized blocks for orderly issuance.
- The last four digits are the serial number. It represents a straight numerical sequence of digits from 0001-9999 within the group. In essence, it is the only unique part of the SSN assigned to you.
If you know what date the SSN was assigned and in which county, you can piece together the first 5 numbers of a person’s number. That is why it is critical to guard the last four numbers. It has been widely known among identity theft experts that it is not difficult to piece together a SSN with a little information, and/or with a little scam trickery. This is backed by a study done by Carnegie Mellon (Reference 4).
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q: Almost every bank, credit card company, health provider, health insurance company, the IRS, and even the Social Security System want to use the last four digits, or in some cases, the whole SSN for identification purposes. What do I do?
A: The companies listed all have legal requirements to use the SSN. Banks and credit card companies have duties to the IRS and to the government in regards to the use of the SSN, such as reporting for taxes and conforming with the Patriot Act. Health care providers have a requirement to have your SSN in case you die in their care and to insure that that information is accurately recorded on your death certificate. Health insurance companies use it to clearly identify the individual covered for tax purposes and liability issues such as mandatory reporting.
The IRS and SSA, as well as state driver’s license and state identification issuing agencies, are part of the government and use the SSN as the key identifier for U.S. citizens.
There are a number of companies that will request your SSN without a clear reason for doing so, which makes them a target of opportunity for data thieves. We suggest questioning their reason for collecting this data. This is a way of reminding the business entity that there is value in the information and consequences for the loss of that same data.
Q: As a part of my job for a major company, I ask for for the last 4 numbers of the SSN everyday before I assist customers).If you are encouraging people to not use the last four, how are they going to call into a company and identify themselves in order to do business with the company?
A: Companies can assign an account number and password to each account, thereby eliminating the need for SSN information. If they need more information, there are many knowledge-based questions they can ask about an account holder.
Q: Why do doctors and dentists need your SSN, or don't they?
A. Health care providers have a requirement to have your SSN in case you die under their care. They are required to insure that that information is accurately recorded on your death certificate.
Q: Why do car dealers ask for the SSN when you purchase a car, even if you pay cash?
A: There are many times when the request for the SSN, being made by the business, is to satisfy a governmental requirement against the business not the consumer. The underlying reason may be due to the Patriot Act which monitors the transference of specified amounts of money.
Ohio law requires you to provide a Social Security Number to the Clerk of Court's Title Division when you get a car title, according to Lindsay Komlanc, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Public Safety.
There are many times when the request for the SSN, being made by the business, is to satisfy a governmental requirement against the business not the consumer. The underlying reason may be due to the Patriot Act which monitors the transference of specified amounts of money.
See Patriot Act IRS Form 8300.
Car dealerships, casinos, and pawn brokers are businesses under this requirement.
There are many times when the request for the SSN, being made by the business, is to satisfy a governmental requirement against the business not the consumer. The underlying reason may be due to the Patriot Act which monitors the transference of specified amounts of money. See Patriot Act IRS Form 8300. Car dealerships, casinos, and pawn brokers are businesses under this requirement.
Q: My SSN is on my Medicare card. Can I get it removed or not carry it all the time?
A: At this time, it will not be removed from the original card. However, there is a way of not carrying the original card on a daily basis. It not only prevents thieves from seeing your SSN but may save you’re your life in case of a medical emergency. ITRC has written a suggestion on how you can have your cake and eat it too. See ITRC Solution 22 .
Q: Do I need to include my SSN on a job application?
A: A company may allow you to write “will provide during interview” in the space for your SSN on an application. A company may also refuse to interview you, costing you a job opportunity. Please see ITRC Fact Sheet 121 – Prevention Tips for Job Seekers
A Final Reminder: Take your Social Security Card out of your wallet and never carry it on a daily basis. Only carry the card on the one day when you have a specific reason to show it to a reliable representative of a company or agency.
Social Security Online
Legal Requirements to provide your Social Security Number
Significance to the numbers assigned in the Social Security Number
Meaning of the numbers in your Social Security Number
Carnegie Mellon Researchers Find Social Security Numbers Can Be Predicted from Publicly Available Information http://www.cmu.edu/news/archive/2009/July/july6_ssnprediction.shtml
This fact sheet should not be used in lieu of legal advice. Any requests to reproduce this material, other than by individual victims for their own use, should be directed to ITRC .
© Copyright 2010 by Identity Theft Resource Center