In 1936, social security numbers (SSN) were introduced in the United States as an individual’s unique identification number. It was used in employee files, medical records, health insurance accounts, credit and banking accounts, university ID cards, and other documents.
These days, the use of computers and database in place of paper filing system has made social security numbers a major class of verification of each person’s identity. However, the rapid increase of computer-related crimes and cases of identity theft call for more vigilant measures from everyone especially in the United States.
Why is your social security number so important?
Gaining access to this number enables anyone to assume the identity of another person who owns the social security number. This means he can illegally retrieve and use your bank accounts, credit accounts, utilities records, and make other transactions in your name. All your personal information that is private and confidential will be put in the wrong hands, and yes, these ruthless criminals can and will use these information against you.
To protect yourself, it is important to know when you should be required to give your social security number and when you are allowed to say no. As much as possible, it is best to limit the use and disclosure of your social security number.
The Privacy Act of 1974 states that all government agencies, whether federal, state or local, public schools, colleges and universities may request your social security number, provided that a written “disclosure” is presented explaining how your SSN will be used, and under what constitutional right or other authority the number is requested. To read the complete declaration of Privacy Act of 1974, you may visit this website – www.usdoj.gov/foia/privstat.htm.
According to the same Privacy act a government agency cannot deny you from receiving benefit or service if you refuse to disclose your SSN unless a disclosure required by federal law is presented. However, agencies that have been using SSNs prior to January 1975 are exempted from this Act. Other exceptions are also stated and explained by the U.S. Department of Justice at this website – www.usdoj.gov/04foia/1974ssnu.htm.
Therefore, if you are demanded for your Social Security Number by a government agency without any disclosure document, you may rightly refuse to do so. As of yet, there seems to be no penalties for government agencies who commits this fault.
What about private businesses?
You are not legally obliged to give your Social Security Number for private businesses, unless the Internal Revenue Service is involved in your transaction. Nevertheless, at present there is no law that prohibits businesses from requiring SSN from their clients. Although you may choose not to give your SSN, the business also has the prerogative not to provide you with their service. If you think it is not reasonable for a business to obtain your social security number, why not try to speak to a supervisor? If you explain the reason why you refuse, he may have the authority to make exceptions or agree to use an alternate identification for your SSN. Otherwise, you may not have much choice but take your business somewhere else.
Generally credit card companies use Social Security Numbers to distinguish different persons that have the same names. To provide additional protection, the California Civil Code has proscribed against printing a customer’s Social Security Number on identification cards, or on documents sent by mail. Customers also should not be asked for their SSN over the internet unless the number is encrypted. A list of all recommended practices for businesses can be found at the State of California’s official website – www.leginfo.ca.gov.
As an individual, there are things you can do to protect your social security number.
Never write down your Social Security Number on any sheet of paper like checks, business cards, address labels, etc. Do not put your SSN card in your wallet where it can lost or stolen.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) sends a Social Security Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement every year. Check that all information is correct. If you see any incorrect detail, call the Social Security Administration’s fraud department immediately at (800) 269-0271 or visit their website is www.ssa.gov.
Get a copy of your annual credit report. It contains all records about your account as well as any credit or banking fraud committed through your name and SSN
Never respond to e-mails requesting for your SSN even when the e-mail appears to be from a valid source. Many have reported receiving e-mails asking for a customer’s SSN to supposedly update its records. Remember, sensitive personal details are never solicited through electronic mail messages.
Do not be a victim of identity theft. Know your rights and your limitations. Educate yourself about their schemes. Be always on the alert when it comes to giving out your personal information, most importantly your social security number.
About the Author
Liz Roberts is a loan consultant with NewHorizon Finance and has been providing consumers and business owners with financing since 1989. Join our mailing list for FREE tips on building and repairing your credit . We also have a list of recommended bad credit credit cards