17 Jul Why do you NEED my Social Security number?
Let’s start with a fact: In a 2009 study by Javelin Strategy & Research, 38 percent of identity theft victims said “the perpetrator had obtained their Social Security number and used it in the crime.” Identity thieves are getting bolder and better at extracting information from trusting potential victims. So who really needs your Social Security number and when should you comply?
First, think about the term Social Security. The word “security” ought to trigger your defensive instincts when it comes to being compromised. Your government-issued Social Security number is the basis on which not only federal retirement benefits are issued but it is the unique identifier for many government services to which you are entitled. It also is the identifier for the obligations you have as a taxpayer.
Think of your Social Security number as being the same as your bank account number. Using that test, would you give your bank account number to the scads of people and organizations that frequently ask for your Social Security number? Heck, no!
Below are the organizations that have a right to your Social Security number:
- Credit applications
- Federal agencies providing services or money
- Department of motor vehicles
Many organizations ask for your Social Security number because it’s easy for THEM in terms of having a universal identifier. However, by having your Social Security number, they are adding to their exposure to liability under state cyber crime liability laws. It’s bad enough to have data stolen that includes only names and addresses. However, when data includes Social Security and bank account numbers, the cost of defending against law suits increases.Another far more frequent request for your number is the medical profession. If you are a recipient of federal funding such as Medicare and Medicaid, then you are obligated to provide your number. In fact, your Medicare identification number is your Social Security number. If you are simply a patient with a private insurance plan, however, there is no reason for you to give your Social Security number to a medical provider. The only time medical providers would ever really need your number is if you died. They are required to use your number for the death certificate. Having your teeth cleaned or your eyes checked will not likely result in an untimely death.
Insurance companies can legitimately require your number. According to Consumer Reports, “Federal law—in the form of the Mandatory Insurer Reporting law—instructs group plan issuers to report Social Security numbers to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for subscribers and covered dependents. The ostensible reason: to cut down on payment errors and possible fraud.”
Here are examples of some other organizations that may request your number but you should think twice about giving it.
- Schools: your home address, telephone and a utility bill are enough to verify your residency for purposes of public education
- Children’s activities: if they need to verify your child’s age, let them look at a birth certificate but do not give them a copy
So, what’s the big deal about sharing your number? By freely giving out your Social Security number, your identity is being entered into a data base over which you have no control. These days, it is safe to say that no organization is exempt from having their databases stolen. Even the federal government was recently hacked by foreign perpetrators. Approximately 4.2 million current and former government employees had their Social Security numbers stolen and as many as 22.1 million people associated with those names were swept up in the grab for data..If keeping your Social Security number secure is a concern for you,
- Simply leave the space blank on applications or forms that request the information. If they really need it, they’ll ask for it and have to explain why.
- If requested, politely decline giving your number and explain that you do not wish to place them or you at risk of having it stolen
- Offer an alternative such as your driver’s license
- Offer just the last four digits of your Social Security number
The bottom line for you is this: Stop and think before giving out information that involves your financial security. Those requesting your Social Security Number may choose to decline rendering service and that may be their right but they risk losing a customer.