Stopping Identity Theft - Who needs my social security number anyway?

I've done many presentations on Stopping Identity Theft over the past couple of years and love to ask the audience "Who needs my social security number anyway?".  Far to many groups and business track our social security number than have a legitimate business need to.  If we stop people from having the number, then they can't lose it, or someone gain access to it.  One step we can take to stopping identity theft, is reducing the number of people and organizations that have our social security number.  

Since stopping identity theft starts with limiting who has our personal information, let's look at who really needs your social security number.Stopping Identity Theft

Private Organizations, this includes public utilities.  They don't have to have your number.  They can ask for it, but you can decline to provide it.  Ask for a supervisor if you are pushed.  They may want to run a credit check, or have it in the event that you fail to pay your bill.  Ask to provide an additional method of verifying your identity.  If they want it for collection purposes that is nothing you need to help them with.

Lenders.  They need your number or they can not access your credit report, or issue you a 1098 for interest you have paid.  When selling real property you will have to provide it to the settlement agent.  Not giving your lender your social is not going to help stopping identity theft it will only stop you from getting a loan. 

Insurers, Hospitals and Doctors.  No law requires the use of your social security number as your ID number, except for Medicare, Medicaid, or other government sponsored care).  Some property insurances companies now require a credit check as a part of the application process.  You can opt to provide your social to them or find a company that does not require it.  Private medical insurance companies have helped in stopping identity theftby switching to identification numbers.  Maybe one day our government will catch up and reduce the risk of identity theft and change the requirement for Medicare and Medicaid.

Child Support.  The Family Support Act of 1988 requires that the parents social security number be collected to issue a birth certificate.  Yet the law allows this to be waived for "good cause" and wouldn't you know it, "good cause" is not defined.  Protect yourself, say you do not want to provide your number to prevent identity theft, hopefully you are able to have this waived.

Universities and Colleges. While likely unnecessary to provide, those that accept federal funds are covered by the Family Education and Privacy Act of 1974 which prohibits them from releasing information on their students including social security numbers (they can though release basic "directory" information, name address and phone numbers).

Stopping Identity Theft starts with ourselves.  Ask for and read the group or businesses privacy policy before you give out your number.   Ask why they need your number, often it is just a piece of information they would like, but don't need.  If they absolutely insist on a number, and you do not want to give your real number (and you are not talking with a government agency, or trying to commit fraud), you may consider giving a fake number.  078-05-1120 was printed on sample cards inserted in to hundreds of thousands of wallets during the 40's and 50's.   It is a widely know as fake, but often not by clerks who are asking.  

Stopping identity theft, we can get closer by limiting the number of groups and organizations who track us by our social security number.  Ask why they need the number and ask if there is an alternative number or method they can use.  You must take an active roll in stopping identity theft by limiting who has your identity information.

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Comment balloon 5 commentsJon Sigler • December 11 2007 11:38AM
Stopping Identity Theft - Who needs my social security number anyway?
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