ITRC Fact Sheet 140
You will be asked to provide your social security number in order to obtain many types of services. The ITRC advises consumers to ask the following questions when the number is requested:
- 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.
According to the Social Security Administration’s website, these are a list of some situations where a SSN might be requested:
- 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;
- Food Stamps;
- Unemployment Compensation;
- 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.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q: Almost every bank, credit card company, health provider, and health insurance company want to use the last four digits, or in some cases, the entire 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 to the Patriot Act. 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 request 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: Do doctors and dentists need my SSN?
A. Health care providers often require a patient to divulge their SSN. The SSN is typically used for identification and authentication of the patient and their health insurance plans. While there does not seem to be a law mandating the collection of SSNs by health care providers, most will require the SSN prior to accepting the patient. Inquire as to how the health care provider protects your personal and health information.
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. Car dealerships, casinos, and pawn brokers are some of the 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. Please see ITRC Solution SN 22 for best practices on this topic.
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. Your employer will need your SSN for payroll purposes and to document your legal right to work in the United States. Please see ITRC Fact Sheet FS 121 – Prevention Tips for Job Seeker.
Important Reminder: Take your Social Security Card out of your purse/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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.