When should you give your Social Security number and when should you not?
Giving out your Social Security number is something you shouldn’t do unless you know it’s absolutely, positively required for what you’re doing.
Companies and institutions ask for our Social Security numbers all the time. Unfortunately, they do a mediocre-to-terrible job of securing the number, depending on the industry.
Kiplinger once ran a list of the 10 worst places to give out your Social Security number.
Here Are the Places You Shouldn’t Give Out Your Social Security Number
- Universities and colleges
- Banking and financial institutions
- State governments
- Local governments
- Federal government
- Medical businesses
- Nonprofit organizations
- Technology companies
- Health insurers and medical offices
Topping the list is any college or university. At one time, Social Security numbers were used as your student ID number, and they were posted everywhere on campus. Some professors even posted grades outside their offices by Social Security numbers.
The second worst place to give out your Social Security number is in the banking industry. Unfortunately, there’s no way around this one: If you want to open an account, you have no choice but to divulge the digits.
Also on the list are hospitals, medical businesses, health insurers and medical offices. These kinds of places always want your Social Security number. But their security can be like Swiss cheese with holes, and medical identity theft is a huge problem.
Other places where you shouldn’t give out your number include government at all levels and volunteer charity organizations. When it comes to the latter, the nonprofits need to run background checks on you. But they vary greatly in the level of sophistication, and your information may not be properly secured.
So you have to give out the number sometimes, but if you freeze your credit, you won’t have to worry as much that your Social Security number is floating around all over the place.
How To Handle Medical Industry Requests for Social Security Information
Theft of personal info from doctor’s offices, labs, medical centers, et al. is a huge problem, according to the Federal Trade Commission. What information can thieves get from medical records? Social Security numbers, your date of birth, maybe a digital image of your driver’s license and maybe even your checking account information.
Criminals use that information in two main ways. First, they create false identities to apply for credit accounts. Second, they create false identities and seek medical care in your name.
In the second example, they essentially create a clone of your identity and sometimes put their picture on your ID cards. Then you get the bills, and your medical records show an illness you don’t have — not to mention the fact that collectors start coming after you for unpaid medical bills.
The reality? The medical industry needs to improve the job it does handling your information. Until it does that, follow the rules below.
1. Do not give a doctor’s office, hospital, lab, or any medical facility your Social Security number on any form. You can leave it blank or use a “dummy” number. Some examples of how to create a dummy number:
- Make the AREA, GROUP, or SERIAL all zeroes (e.g, 000-45-6789, 123-00-6789, 123-45-0000)
- Make the AREA number 666 (it will never be issued)
- Make the AREA number 900-999 (not valid SSNs but were used for program purposes when state aid to the aged, blind and disabled was converted to a federal program administered by SSA)
2. If it has your SSN printed on it, do not give your driver’s license when you’re asked for a photo ID. Give another form of photo identification such as a passport, military ID or employee ID card.
By taking these basic precautions, you can reduce the possibility that you’ll become a victim of identity theft.
Do you have questions about your Social Security number and identity theft? Contact Clark’s free Consumer Action Center.