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


Thanks for the post. I find it heartening. I went to my oral surgeon for the first time last week. They asked me for my social security number and I declined to give that information. I knew I was right but that seed of doubt seeped in when they started pressuring me.

Of course, they told me that with their payment processing software I HAD to give them my social or pay cash. It's a maddening process, made all the moreso by being treated as if you are in the wrong when you know you're in the right.

Posted by Justin Myers (KMI Mortgage) almost 13 years ago
it seems like every time you turn around somebody is asking for this number!!! I refuse to give it to doctors! they don't need a central data bank with my information in it!
Posted by Barbara-Jo Roberts Berberi, MA, PSA, TRC - Greater Clearwater Florida Residential Real Estate Professional, Palm Harbor, Dunedin, Clearwater, Safety Harbor (Charles Rutenberg Realty) almost 13 years ago
Justin, Barbara-Jo and Bill, thanks for your comments.  Stay vigilant, and you can protect your identity
Posted by Jon Sigler, South Windsor Homes for Sale 860-306-8029 (Keller Williams - Greater Hartford) almost 13 years ago


 Great info for all of us! So many companies, etc bully people into giving up their ssn and as you point out, it is not necessary! You know darn well that if you experienced id theft and traced it back to a doctor's office that you supplied it to, they would deny their involvement till the end of time.


Posted by Jim & Karen Frey, Lawn Painting ( 805-669-8480) almost 13 years ago

Good information.  As an identity theft specialist I always tell people to avoid using SSN unless absolutely nescessary.

Posted by Thomas Hargreaves (TriStar Financial Services) about 12 years ago

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