When should you give your Social Security number and when should you not?
My rule on giving out my Social Security number is that I don’t do it unless I know it’s absolutely, positively required for what I’m doing.
Companies and institutions ask for our Social Security numbers like they’re handing out pieces of candy. 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. I recall when Social Security numbers were used as your student ID number, and they were posted everywhere on campus. I even had a professor who posted grades outside his office by Social Security number.
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.
Making four separate entries on the list are hospitals, medical businesses, health insurers and medical offices. These kinds of places always want your Social Security number, and I always leave it blank. Their thinking is if you don’t pay, they want to be able to turn you over to a collection agency. But their security is like Swiss cheese with holes, and medical identity theft is a huge problem.
Once when I had a diagnostic test, I was handed pre-printed forms where my Social Security number was printed in four places. I have no idea how they got it, and that means that anybody who sees that record now has access to my Social Security number.
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 info may not be properly secured.
You know the conclusion to this story. Freeze your credit and you won’t have to worry about the fact that your 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 info can the 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.
The information is being used by criminals in two ways.
First, they’re creating false identities to apply for credit accounts. Second, they’re creating false identities and seeking medical care in your name.
In the latter example, they basically create a clone of your identity — but with 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 balance bills!
The reality? The medical industry needs to improve the job it does handling your information. Until it does that, follow these rules:
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. Do not give your driver’s license when they ask for a picture ID. Give any other form of picture ID. I use my military ID because it doesn’t have as much information on it.
By taking these basic precautions, you can reduce the possibility that you’ll become an identity theft victim.
Do you have questions about your social security number and identity theft? Contact Clark’s free Consumer Action Center.