It’s worth giving a second thought when handing over this kind of information…
Recently, my child got to attend a three-day baton camp at a university in our state. As the parents gathered for one final meeting, we were given our medical forms and liability waivers to sign. On the form were the blank lines to write in both our kids’ Social Security numbers and our own SSNs.
Why? What could the privately-owned company who was hosting the camp (not the university) need with our Social Security numbers? Many of the parents had trouble with that line, and I know I certainly did. But the parents who were perplexed by the SSNs weren’t alarmed or cautious, but rather they were a little put out that they couldn’t recall their children’s numbers. The parents never questioned why they had to supply these highly sensitive pieces of information.
Oddly enough, the company itself quite likely had no idea why it was asking for the SSNs in the first place. There’s no obvious need for that information, at least not in a way that pertains to attending baton camp. It’s possible that the company put that on the registration form without even thinking it through.
It’s certainly not the first time I’ve been asked for my children’s Social Security numbers by someone who truly doesn’t need it. I’ve been asked for it on permission slips for field trips, city league sports registration forms, and of course, more medical offices than I care to think about. It seems like the SSN is just a standard request, despite there being no good reason to turn it over.
Unfortunately, just as the “asker” is requesting it without a conscious reason, the “supplier” too often turns it over without question. Again, why? Some experts have speculated that it’s simply an authority response: when the person who controls your child’s sports team or medical care asks for something, you give it to them.
There’s a highly dangerous flip side to this problem, though. If we get used to providing our sensitive information to anyone who asks for it—especially people who aren’t going to use it for anything other than taking up space in a random form—how will we discern when someone with harmful intentions is the one asking? A recent study found that the Millennial generation is most likely to fall for a phone scam involving tax fraud or identity theft because many of them give their identifying information to others without stopping to question why it’s needed.
Now, there’s a common misconception that the SSN is only for employment purposes. Even though that’s how it started out, different pieces of legislation have allowed it to be expanded. For example, you must supply it to apply for government benefits, free or reduced school lunch programs, or to receive services from the veteran’s administration. It’s required to open an interest-bearing bank account, to register to vote and to be enrolled in a jury selection process. But nowhere does it state that your local Little League team or your podiatrist needs it.
If you’re not convinced, try this: refuse to turn it over and see what happens—just make sure you’re being polite. I have had exactly two doctors’ offices ever even mention it when I didn’t write it on our forms. One office was adamant that they had to have it in order to file my daughter’s insurance claim, a mistake that was quickly cleared up when I pulled out my phone and called the customer service number on the back of my insurance card. In the other instance, I simply said, “I’ve had my identity stolen in the past, so I don’t give out my Social Security number.” The receptionist responded, “Oh, I hear ya! I wouldn’t give it out either!”
It’s important that consumers take their privacy seriously. Don’t fall victim to “authority requests,” and certainly don’t make the mistake of thinking that your data is already out there so there’s no point in protecting it now. If an unauthorized person requests information that you’re not comfortable providing, feel free to respond with “why do you need it,” “how will you protect it,” or even just a firm but kind “no.”
Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.