It seems like every time you fill out an application or formal document, somebody wants to know your Social Security number. Many times we just give it up — the organization is reputable, so what’s the harm? But the question you should be asking yourself is, “Why?”
Why are you being asked to give up one of the most important legal identifiers and the master key to identity theft? Is your Social Security number actually required, or can you continue the process without divulging that information? Here are the times you can keep your SSN to yourself.
1. During a job interview
If you’re hired for a job — or at least in the last few stages of the hiring process — your employer will request your Social Security number so they can do a background check. This is an appropriate time to provide it to them. Any requests beforehand, like on your application, are not mandatory and your chances of getting that job shouldn’t be hurt by withholding your SSN.
2. Loyalty cards for retailers
If the application for a retailer’s loyalty card requests your SSN, skip this section. There’s no reason they need it since the card has no credit value — you’re just racking up store points. Sometimes store policy mandates the application can’t be processed without this information, and in that case, you’re better off declining the program. Considering how many retailers get hacked these days, this is a wise move to make if you want to at least try to protect your personal information from identity theft.
3. School (unless you’re applying for financial aid)
You’ll need some kind of identifying information to register for school. Birth certificate, driver’s license, passport, and bills showing your name and address are all acceptable documents to prove you are who you say you are. But it’s illegal for public schools, in particular, to require a Social Security number to attend. Same goes for college — unless you’re applying for financial aid or scholarships. In that case, they need your Social Security number in order to qualify you based on you or your family’s income.
4. Doctor’s offices
Generally, you’re not required to provide your Social Security number to medical service providers unless it’s a part of a transaction that must be reported to the IRS or required to do a credit check with one of the major credit reporting agencies. Doctors want your Social Security number for one reason and one reason only: money. They ask for it so they can send your information to a collections agency if your account becomes delinquent.
You’re not required to provide your Social Security number to medical providers. Some will accept another form of numerical identification, but others may refuse to do business with you unless you provide it.
5. Government benefits
Government agencies may ask for your Social Security number, but the Privacy Act of 1974 requires these agencies to inform people whether or not a Social Security number is required by law at the particular agency. If it is not required, the agency cannot refuse to provide you benefits if you decide not to divulge your SSN.