How to safeguard your social security number

In articles about how to prevent identity theft, I’ve often read that one should never give out his or her social security number (SSN) unless absolutely necessary. That sounds like good common sense. But I recently found myself asking, in what situations is it actually necessary?

I’ve mentioned that my husband and I own land on which we are starting to build a home. The land is owner-financed, and we’ve had a great relationship with the sellers (who are also our future neighbors) for the past three years. Last week I received a message that they needed our SSNs. The full story wasn’t clear, but it seemed they had a new CPA who said she needed our numbers to complete their taxes. This immediately set off red flags for me. This isn’t to say I distrust the sellers. They are a lovely retired couple — the kind of people that invite you in for coffee when you drop off the monthly payment. But I didn’t know this CPA, why she needed our SSNs when they’ve never been needed before, and what precautions she would take to safeguard them. So I decided to dig a little deeper. Do you have to provide your SSN because it’s requested, and if not, how do you know which situations are optional?

Social Security Numbers: Why They Matter

Someone illegally using your number can access personal information and apply for and use credit in your name, creating a financial mess that you’re left to sort out. Creditors can start calling, and you might be turned down for loans.

According to the 2010 Identity Fraud Survey Report, last year more than 11 million people in the U.S. were victims of identity fraud — at a total cost of $54 billion. The good news is that most victims didn’t have any out-of-pocket requests, and those who did paid an average of $373. But the average time the victims had to spend to resolve the situation was 21 hours. Yuck.

It’s important that you safeguard your number, taking the following precautions:

  • Keep your social security card in a secure place, which does not include keeping it in your wallet.
  • Consider your number confidential. When writing a check, firmly deny requests to write your SSN on the check. If an entity uses your SSN as your account number, request that it be changed.
  • Don’t respond to e-mail requests for your SSN, even if they seem to be from a legitimate company with which you do business. Same goes for unsolicited phone calls.
  • If an online company requires your SSN, such as for an insurance quote, make sure the server is secure and the company is reputable.
  • Request your free credit reports each year to ensure no unusual credit lines appear.

When Your SSN is Required

In certain situations, you’ll have to provide your SSN, such as the following:

  • When you start a new job, your employer will request your number. Your name and number must be accurate in your employer’s payroll records and W-2 so that Social Security can credit your earnings.
  • Your financial institutions need your number for tax reporting purposes.
  • Some government agencies, such as motor vehicle departments, can require your number. All agencies, from local to federal, must disclose whether your SSN is required or optional, how it will be used, and under what authority it’s being requested.

When It’s Requested, But Not Required

Any business can request your SSN, and there aren’t many restrictions on what the business can do with it. Information resellers, consumer reporting agencies, and some health care organizations obtain SSNs and use them in a variety of ways. But when it’s not required by law, you can refuse to provide it (the flip side is that the business also can refuse to do business with you). If a business requests your number, ask the following questions:

  • Why is my SSN needed?
  • How will it be used?
  • Is it required by law (if so, state the law or regulation)?
  • What security measures does your company take with customer SSNs?
  • What happens if I refuse to provide it?

You also can ask to speak with a manager or supervisor to explain your concern about identity theft, and ask that they accept another identifier in place of your SSN. If you still can’t persuade them and don’t feel comfortable giving out your number, be willing to walk away and find another company with which to do business.

In our case, the sellers said they no longer needed our SSNs because it was only required if they filed their taxes online, and they decided not to do so. I don’t suspect anything fraudulent in our situation, but even so, it’s prudent to keep your SSN confidential, even if you have to be a pain in the neck about it. A request for your SSN doesn’t mean it’s a requirement.

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There are 58 comments to "How to safeguard your social security number".

  1. Rob says 07 July 2010 at 04:29

    Good tip. I probably need to be more aware of when someone asks me for my SSN than I am. Usually I have just assumed it was required. I never thought to ask if it was optional.

  2. everyday tips says 07 July 2010 at 04:42

    I just wondered this the other day. Ironically, I think I was trying to get access to my free credit report online or something like that, and the form requested my social security number. Whatever it was, I backed out when I saw my social security number was required, even though it may have been perfectly legitimate.

  3. PMT says 07 July 2010 at 05:10

    The thing about an SSN is that you no longer need all of it. How many places ask for the last 4 to verify your identity? Plus since SSN currently are a pattern there are people accurately generating SSNs with very little effort. You need to protect more than just your SSN but other personal info as well.

    With Facebook, MySpace, Linkin and other social networks personal info protection has gone out the window as people post anytyhing and everything.

    Bottom line is that you need to be careful giving out any part of your SSN as well as any personal information. Here is more on the SSN Code Cracking, http://www.usnews.com/science/articles/2009/07/06/social-security-number-code-cracked-study-claims.html

  4. TosaJen says 07 July 2010 at 05:22

    When I was in college, my ID number was . . . my SSN! Didn’t mean anything to me at the time.

    When DH was in college (in his late 30s), his ID number was . . . his SSN! We were appalled, and he refused to get a student ID until they changed his ID to something else. And he had to fight for it, because the (kid) student intern in the registrar’s office didn’t get why we cared about it. 😉

    We’re also very cautious, and I have regularly refused to hand it out unless there was a compelling reason.

  5. Chickybeth says 07 July 2010 at 05:52

    If you have federal student loans, your account number is always your SSN and can’t be changed. They don’t mail you items with the whole number on it, but you have to use it to login to their website.

    You should check your credit files often even if you haven’t given out your SSN because companies do not need to know it to put information in your file.

  6. Dan says 07 July 2010 at 05:59

    My doctor’s administrative assistant asked for my SSN to confirm my insurance. Do I need to give it? Is something else sufficient?

    Thank you!

    Sincerely,

    Dan

  7. Kate says 07 July 2010 at 06:31

    @ dan
    A lot of medical insurance companies use you SSN as your ID number.

  8. Suzanne says 07 July 2010 at 06:40

    Back in the day, most people had their SSN printed on their checks. Of course that was back when checks were the primary mode of payment. It’s a good question, though, that some have raised: do businesses ever “need” to know that info? In my doctor’s office, I just give them my insurance card and have never been required to provide my SSN (at least to my memory).

  9. April Dykman says 07 July 2010 at 06:51

    @TosaJen–When I started college, we were asked to write our SSNs on tests and papers. By my junior year, we were told that work with an SSN on it would not be accepted! There was an incident where hundreds of student SSNs were stolen.

    @Dan–Great question! I did some digging, and this article might help answer your question: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12137393/ns/business-consumer_news/. Short answer–if it’s a simple doctor’s visit with only one insurance company involved, your insurance ID should be enough. Many insurance companies no longer use your SSN as an ID.

    If you refuse to give it, you might need to be firm. I just found a TIME article about a man who had to talk to eight Verizon reps to have his account processed without an SSN: http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1690827,00.html.

  10. Kathy A. says 07 July 2010 at 06:53

    When I owned a business, I frequently received W9 forms (request for taxpayer ID) from people who did not need my taxpayer ID (SSN for an individual, FEIN for a corp). But the form itself says there is a penalty for not providing the number when requested, and makes no mention of avoiding the penalty if the request was unneccesary. Argh.

  11. grace says 07 July 2010 at 06:59

    I had “don’t give out your SSN” drilled into me at a very young age. I was very confused and disgruntled when I tried to sign up for Comcast and the helpful online customer service rep refused to let me do it unless I gave them my SSN. I told him (her?) that I didn’t understand why my SSN was required so that I could have ESPN and HGTV. He was very unhelpful and allowed for no alternative.

    Luckily (I guess?) one of my roommates was less concerned and she took care of it.

    Verizon also requires it, I think. They have mine, at any rate, but that’s my parents’ fault.

    I willingly give my SSN to banks, doctors, and employers (within reason) and that’s about it.

  12. Nunzio X says 07 July 2010 at 07:01

    Here’s something I’ve done:

    I’ve gone through my filing cabinet and searched all the paperwork for my SS#. Then I take an Xacto knife and cut my number out of the form, making certain to destroy the cut-out bits afterward.

    Reason: anyone in your home can steal your identity easily just by stealing certain paperwork from your (probably unlocked) filing cabinet. If I was a burglar, I’d go right for the filing cabinet and forget the jewelry and electronics—identity theft is so much more lucrative.

  13. Kathy B says 07 July 2010 at 07:02

    @ Dan – I used to work for a doctor in a small office. We required the patient’s SSN. When a patient refused, then the office manager explained the policy, insurance requirements etc., and that if they did not provide their SSN then they would not be seen by the doctor. Some would give in and provide that SSN, others did not. I hear tell that they now require not only the patients SSN, they are also requiring a credit card number to charge when their insurance is slow paying. Personally, I do not think this is legal, however, knowing the doctor and how he is about money(he’s been ripped off many times, but that’s another story) this was the doctor’s idea.

  14. Kevin M says 07 July 2010 at 07:04

    I’m guessing they needed your SSN for seller-financed mortgage interest. They report it as income and the IRS wants to match it with the deduction you are taking on your tax return.

    Similar to a bank reporting your mortgage interest on a Form 1098.

  15. Tami says 07 July 2010 at 07:18

    I’ve found that SSN is always asked for on new patient forms at doctor’s offices. Why would they need it?

    • Ask Questions! says 03 February 2019 at 09:34

      They don’t really need it. If you ask they will tell you that it is for your own protection so no one can claim is you using the medical insurance and for their protection in case the insurance company decides to claim it wasn’t really you who received medical service. It is a bunch of bs. What bugs me is that usually the moron taking your SSN is likely a person with zero money because they spend it on croch piercings and would have no problem taking your info and selling it for 10 bucks to people who have no problem getting credit cards in your name.

  16. Bridgette says 07 July 2010 at 07:19

    I’d like to see a post on what lifelock or other companies like that do – and how to do what they do on your own. I’ve heard that they basically call someone (not sure who – credit agencies, etc) and put a hold on your account unless they call you at a certain number. I am not sure how it works – but if someone could explain, that would be good.

  17. Steve says 07 July 2010 at 07:44

    When I was in the military, our SSNs were used as our ID numbers. For instance it was part of the address used to send me a letter – it had to be written right on the front of an envelope and put in the mail system (and, I had to give it to anyone I wanted to get a letter from.) I have also been handed a sheet of paper with the SSNs of every person in my unit, just to perform some trivial administration task.

    I think the cat is out of the bag SSN wise. What we need is a better system of verifying identities in this country. A sort-of-but-not-really-secret number is not good enough.

  18. BK says 07 July 2010 at 08:07

    Even for an online insurance quote, I wouldn’t offer my SSN. I’m an insurance agent and we don’t need it/ask it until the actual application.

    We have no need for it if you aren’t purchasing and frankly, I don’t want any more of that information under my responsibility than required.

  19. elaine says 07 July 2010 at 08:36

    People’s credit reports are tied to their SS#s. Creditors ask for them so they can run a credit check before granting credit. If one asks that credit be extended (including doctors who are collecting from insurance companies and folks who are carrying one’s mortgage), then it’s a resonable request.
    I have written to my Congresspeople to ask that Medicare Cards use a number OTHER THAN the SS#. Since it’s a primary health insurer, one really needs to carry it with him/her. Those of us over 65 avoid carrying their SS#s at some risk. I’ve memorized mine, but of course that requires that I be conscious when I need the card.

  20. Chris says 07 July 2010 at 08:52

    I once worked as a customer service rep for a third-party company that provided benefit services for companys’ employees (tuition reimbursement, FSA reimbursement, etc.). We did this for several different companies. Some companies’ data files were more updated than others. Some companies provided SSNs as part of their feed. We’d get a call and we’d ask for SSN (as we were trained). Some would balk. So we’d ask for first and last name and state of residence. If necessary, verify city of residence, then their record would come up, including their SSN.

  21. sandi_k says 07 July 2010 at 09:03

    @Dan-

    In recent years, with new doctors and dentists, I refuse to provide my entire SSN for their office.

    Instead, I type XXX-XX-#### (with # = last 4 digits of my SSN). I have NEVER had an issue with that format.

    My feeling is that they have my Group Insurance #, & they have my patient ID # – that’s plenty to get them paid. And if there were ever an issue, they could report to the credit bureaus using my full name and address.

  22. Anne says 07 July 2010 at 09:10

    I write medical billing software, and I can tell you that at least 90% of insurance companies do require a SS# in addition to policy#. This is to avoid fraud, etc. Not knowing in advance what your insurance will require, or what insurance changes you might have in the future, I think that practically every doctor’s office requires it. The only thing you could do would be to pay up front in cash, and then bill the insurance company yourself using your receipt. This will get very complicated with contractual allowances, etc., since you will have almost certainly paid the doctor more than the insurance company allows …

    I did have the receptionist at a veterinary office refuse to see my cat until I gave a SS#. I refused, but fortunately the vet overheard the conversation and saw the cat anyway, since I was paying cash up front.

  23. Dan says 07 July 2010 at 09:23

    Thanks again for all of the advice!

    Sincerely,

    Dan

  24. Mike says 07 July 2010 at 09:35

    When I applied to grad school, it was listed as optional on the application. However, I found out that admissions understood it to only be optional for non-US citizens. When I received my stipend, they processed like a foreigner (extremely high tax rates, including state taxes I didn’t owe).

  25. chacha1 says 07 July 2010 at 10:33

    I understand that the LifeLock guy had his identity stolen. Well, he was really kind of asking for it, wasn’t he??

    I live in a fairly privacy-conscious area of West L.A. and I don’t get requests for SSN often. In California, insurers can’t use it as an ID number and it doesn’t appear on driver’s licenses.

    Wondering if there is a state-by-state breakdown of businesses/agencies that may legitimately require the SSN? Seems like that would be good to know. Obviously, annualcreditreport.com can and does, also the IRS, etc.; but who else? I’ve had to provide it to a prospective landlord, and I didn’t like doing that.

  26. Carrie says 07 July 2010 at 10:41

    If you are freelancing or self-employed, it’s a very good idea to get an Employer Identification Number (EIN). Financial institutions accept them in place of your SSN. They are free to obtain at IRS.gov.

  27. Amanda says 07 July 2010 at 11:13

    Kevin #14 is correct. In this situation the CPA needed your #. I’m a tax accountant. =)

  28. ricki says 07 July 2010 at 12:29

    When my children were in school ( last one graduated in may.. yay ) The school would ask me for their SSN I never gave it to them but I always wondered why they needed it. When I asked the school why they needed it they would say its for the “records” whatever that means.

  29. Scott M says 07 July 2010 at 13:12

    Utility companies (telephone, gas, electric, cable) use the SS# for debt collection. This is because the SS# is the only single id that is unique throughout the USA.

    Once you sign up for a service with your SS#, you can’t escape payment if you ever want to use that service again. If you don’t pay your cable/electric/gas bill when you move from one house, you can’t sign up for new service with the same company at your new address, unless you pay your outstanding bill. How do they know it’s you? From the SS# you provided.

    I know of families that move multiple times, and go through the entire families SS#’s – spouse, kids, cousins, grandparents, uncles, aunts… all to avoid paying overdue bills.

    • Janet says 04 December 2012 at 15:33

      “Utility companies (telephone, gas, electric, cable) use the SS# for debt collection.”

      I have a good credit rating and have never stiffed a provider but I still was uncomfortable giving the gas/electric company my SS# to sign up for services at my new residence.

      I formed a corporation and gave them the FEIN# instead. They bitched and groused about it but relented when I told them I’d be willing to pay a deposit to get services.

      The gas company asked me how many people would be living at my residence. I asked why she needed to know this. Her reply was ‘sometimes people use other people’s info to sign up because they owe us money’.

      I consider it intrusive for a public utility to try and recruit ME to help them catch deadbeats.

      I didn’t provide this info either. Because it is NON of their business.

      I’m sorry I didn’t demand the SS#’s of all the strangers who wanted mine.

  30. Tyler Karaszewski says 07 July 2010 at 13:19

    There’s a lot I could say about identity theft based on my own experience, which is not so much with identity theft itself, but with computer security based on my career building software that needs to be secure.

    The most overwhelming thing to recognize is that you almost certainly do not understand these threats as well as you think you do. Many of these threats are far over-estimated. Some are under-estimated. The things that you think make you “safe” may or may not have any effect on your actual safety. Things you’ve never considered often do.

    As far as your social security number is concerned, it’s worth protecting, but as April says, the results are rarely catastrophic even if yours is stolen: you’re likely to lose about 20 hours of your time, and probably no money. It’s also worth considering what “identity theft” really means. This is not like Sandra Bullock’s character in “The Net” whom suddenly “disappeared” from the world — no longer a citizen with any identification or way to prove who she was. What identity theft is in the real-world is the co-opting of your credit score to steal from creditors by taking out fraudulent loans.

    This brings up another point — the motivation behind stealing your credit score (I think it says something about our society that ‘identity’ and ‘credit score’ are almost synonymous) is *not* simply to be evil, or to erase you from the world. The criminals who do this have the same motivations as most other criminals: they’re trying to obtain money. If they don’t think they can use your information to make them a bit richer, they probably wont bother. This is also worth considering when you’re thinking about things like securing your online photos. Your photos probably aren’t sellable, so no one is trying to steal them.

    It’s worth also considering some other sensitive numbers just for comparison — if you’ve ever transferred money online or paid a bill from your checking account, you’ll realize that all you need to do this are two numbers, both of which are printed on the bottom left corner of every check you write. What this implies is that anyone to whom you’ve given a check has all the information they need to make arbitrary withdrawals from that checking account. No one worries so much about these numbers though, even though they put you in more immediate danger of loss than the theft of your SSN, simply because it’s not so sensationalized.

    Any realistic discussion of risk needs to have assessments not only of the worst-case scenarios, but also the *likely* scenarios. The likely scenario resulting from a compromised SSN, as April has pointed out, is up to 3 days work and $373. You have to consider how much you’re willing to invest in prevention, and seriously consider whether it’s worth it, especially if it’s going to cost close to or more than the likely losses (three days and less than $400).

    This is true for every related security measure, but it’s often absent from the news and reporting — to make any reasonable decision you need a *realistic* and not a doomsday evaluation of what your actual risks are, and also a comparison of other risks, and whether your resources would be better spent securing yourself in other ways.

    I haven’t even started on all the misconceptions that exist around computer security, it’s a huge topic in itself, and worth a separate discussion.

  31. Bob DDS says 07 July 2010 at 13:26

    Don’t get too crazy about SSN requests! Many health insurance companies still use SSN as their ID number. Your doctor or dentist cannot submit a claim without it, or even determine if you are covered. One recent patient refused to provide her SSN. We told her fine, you pay the Metlife rate for the service and you can input your SSN and send in the form. Patient did not want to be out the money. So, how did she expect us to be paid? We told the patient that we were not going to see her for free.

  32. TosaJen says 07 July 2010 at 13:33

    Hey Tyler — this is one of my favorites of your comments. Thanks for the info.

  33. Scott M says 07 July 2010 at 13:50

    Ricki,

    They probably just wanted to be able to uniqely identify your child if asked fro records.

    It’s a lot easier to pull transcripts, school records, school medical records, etc, if you have one definitive number assigned to a single student.

    Sure you could use some ‘school ID number’. But once you leave that school district, are you going to remember it? Then, are you sure that your child is the only child with your name in the school that year? What if the name is misspelled during a transcript request? And multiply those issues by all the records requests the school district gets every day. You can start to see the advantages of just having one unique number to identify a child.

  34. Funny about Money says 07 July 2010 at 14:09

    Good post. Great comment from Tyler. Any chance J.D. and crew could persuade Tyler to write a post on the misconceptions around this issue?

    I’ve also given up on refusing to give my SSN to doctors’ offices — they now almost universally refuse to treat you unless you cough up the number. Once I gave an ophthamologist a fake number (since I had to pay out of pocket for a routine exam anyway, there was no reason for them to have the real number). Despite the fact that I paid in cash, the did find out the number was fake and called me up to harass me about it. Fortunately they got the voicemail; I never replied.

    Now that I’m old, I discover that my SSN is on the Medicare card, and the government says I am required to carry it around with me. You’d be amazed at the number of entities that require you to show your Medicare card. You need one, for example, to get the senior citizen fare on the local lightrail.

  35. Sheila says 07 July 2010 at 16:08

    I don’t mind so much giving the # to people who are inputting it into a computer, but when it’s on a paper copy, that’s what bothers me. What happens to that paper? I was at an optometrist’s office, and saw the name, birthdate and SSN of a patient whose records were on the reception desk. The receptionist stepped away and left all that information accessible to anyone coming up to the desk. Also, there was an instance of a mortgage loan business leaving boxes of records at the recycling center. While I’m glad they recycle, their customers would have appreciated them shredding the documents prior to recycling them.

  36. Bob says 07 July 2010 at 16:24

    When asked for my SSN, I routinely give a fake number, usually the correct first two segments followed by 0000. This avoids an argument, (almost) uniquely identifies me and has never been questioned.

    Are there likely to be any problems with this?

  37. Y2K says 07 July 2010 at 17:11

    I appreciate Tyler’s comment, and there is a lot of good information, but I disagree with some of his conclusions.

    Whoever is stealing your identity does not care about more than using your identity to obtain money. Usually, that involves borrowing money or buying and paying on some form of credit. It also usually involves not paying for it. If they intended to pay, they would use their own credit; they would not be stealing identities.

    Once that happens, your loss may be a day and about $300, perhaps, but your credit score will be shot. Just because you put a fraud alert on your credit profile does not mean that you credit will magically be back to where it was. True, you will not be responsible for the balance, and whoever checks your report will see that there was fraud. But that great loan rate you saw, the one that was only available to those with “excellent” credit? Sorry, you might not qualify. When you apply for a home or car loan, and you have to pay 1%+ more because your credit is not as good as it would have been, you’ve just “lost” much more than $300. It could cost you thousands.

    Secondly, once your social security number is out, it is likely more people have it. It’s usually not the doctors office receptionist who uses it. It’s the guy who went through the dumpster where the doctor’s office dumped their old files. And he didn’t use it either. He sold it. Along with dozens of others. So two years later, or whenever a security freeze is removed, you may suddenly find that your credit was used again.

    A bank routing/account number, on the other hand, has no correlation to the amount you will pay for loans. If they are actually transferring money out, they would have to actually have access to the account to verify test deposits. Having access to the routing and account number does not allow people to do that. Other uses for your bank account, such as paying bills using an e-check, for example, are relatively minor amounts that you are not responsible for either (much like credit fraud) and don’t ultimately affect other parts of your financial life.

  38. david/MoneyCrashers says 07 July 2010 at 17:21

    Great stuff

    You would think that most of it is obvious, but not really.

    Its probably the most valuable piece of info we have about ourselves, and should be protected with that in mind.

  39. MegW says 07 July 2010 at 21:01

    I’m currently in the military and your SSN is still your ID number, printed on your ID card and everything. And if you’re married and/or have kids, they have to know your SSN in order to get medical treatment on base. You use it for far too much stuff, like setting up computer accounts, getting a prescription filled (even off base), pay issues, everything. Though luckily most of the time you can just give them the last 4 as verification.
    But still, it’s unnerving when I stop to think how easily it would be for someone INSIDE the system to steal my number. *shivers*

  40. Paul says 07 July 2010 at 23:48

    If you want to help someone steal your identity, give out your Social Security number. If you want to help someone dip into your bank account, give out your Social Security number.

    Face it, we live in a country full of bureaucratic nitwits and busybodies. This used to be the country of the free and the brave. The bureaucrats want a country full of chickens with everyone marching in lockstep. Stand up for your rights. Stand up for your convictions. Do not cooperate with those who are paving paradise, turning it into a parking lot, putting trees into a tree museum, and charging you a dollar and a half to see them — words and music by Joni Mitchell. Fight ’em!

  41. Mortgage Lender says 08 July 2010 at 01:54

    Long post, somewhat unfocused but here’s how the mortgage industry uses an SSN and much more. Should be useful for those who have or aspire to own a home.

    I work for a large mortgage lender. We primarily do business that is brought to us from mortgage brokers. Mortgage brokers find borrowers and hopefully help them get the best deal while taking a reasonable commission. Once you’ve decided to work with a broker they will take the standard mortgage application. If you’ve ever filled out a mortgage application you know that your required to disclose everything about yourself. After the app is filled out the mortgage broker will decide where they can get the best deal and send the application to the lender, me in this case. Those go into our database and are stored there forever. We are legally or contractually required to keep everything on file until the end of time. So we do in a very robust database. I have access to over a 1,000,000 mortgage applications dating back over a decade. I and my company have never abused this info but we have it. I know who you work for, how much you make, how much you have in the bank and even how many kids you have plus their ages for good measure. The list goes on and on. Better than that if you try to hide anything from me I’ve got half a dozen sources that pull info from public and private records. So if something is “forgotten” on the app I know that too. The most important number in your application is your SSN. It pulls your credit and without that you have no loan. If you don’t give it then no FICO and no loan. Faking it is even worse because once I have reason to question your credibility I’ll be asking for stuff like your 3rd grade report card before I’ll make a decision on your loan. So this is one of those situations you have to give it. We’re not who you have to worry about though.

    Back to the mortgage brokerage. There will typically be at least three people from the brokerage that get full access to your info.

    First the Broker, they typically own and run the brokerage. Responsible for all the information that passes through the brokerage and any misuse of that information. They make money from loans being processed through the brokerage and have every interest in keeping that info safe. Typically you won’t deal with them unless it’s a small brokerage or there is a problem with your loan they need to mediate. These guys will typically be the most responsible party at the brokerage.

    The second party will most likely be a loan agent. Loan agents are the salesmen of the brokerage and work primarily on commission. If the loan doesn’t work out they don’t get paid and that effects them a lot more than the broker who gets a piece from all the loans that get funded. The loan agents also want to protect your information but in my experience some of them also have no qualms with using it to gain additional info the lender requires.

    Back to lenders real quick (yeah right it will be quick.) Five years ago lenders basically only needed your SSN to make a loan. Strong credit even without an appraisal was enough to secure several hundred thousand against a shack in California (not speaking for my company, that is why we still exist.) Fast forward to 2010 and now I need to know if you got french tips or not when I see a $30 debit from your account to Pearls Nail Salon. It’s not that ridiculous but you get the idea. It’s actually turned 180 and now the most qualified borrowers get the most hassle. Mo money mo problems couldn’t be truer. Make a couple grand on the side consulting? That will be at least two years 1040s. Have slight ownership in a corp or partnership? I’ll also take two years of their taxes. Drop a two grand deposit into an ATM, I’ll need a transcript including check image of that also. Check is from an individual? Then I also need to know everything about it. Oh it was a personal loan payback from four years ago, great! I’ll just take the note from that loan as well as the proof you lent it to them four years ago. Well if you don’t have that then all you need to do is pay it back to them. Just show me the canceled check and new balance of your account so we can update the asset balance. Everything from consulting comment is what is actually required at this point. The more complicated your financial situation is the more we will pry it open. Like peeling an onion, it makes you cry but you have to do it. The more qualified the borrower the more they hate this.

    So back to that loan agent that you filled out an application for. Well if you don’t want to give him another bank statement he can just call the bank, pose as you and get it himself. It’s totally justified in his mind because he’s facilitating you to get the loan you want. Have a collection account you paid but the collection people never bothered to update your credit history? He can solve that problem for you too! You get the idea. These guys are motivated to “help you” and can use your info to do it. Most wouldn’t and don’t but it does happen and they could give out your SSN in these situations if it helps solve the problem.

    The third party that will have your info are the processors. They are the people who actually transfer your application into the lenders system and track down the stuff the lender needs. They typically get paid the least and have the least pull at the brokerage. So they can be manipulated to also jeopardize your info if the situation strikes. In general I would probably trust them the most though. While having little to no credentials their job requires more technical skill than a loan agent and they know the most about the lender. A processor with a good relationship with my lender can always find another broker to work with. No reason for them to jeopardize the skills they have learned while everyone else was busy talking borrowers into loans. They could be a concern though since they again have access to the full application.

    So your lender and more so your broker have way more issues than you could have predicted. What can you do to mediate the risk?

    You have to give up your SSN but that doesn’t mean you should do it carelessly. A lot of borrowers go for the broker on the radio offering the “best deal”. They might even have the best deal but that doesn’t mean you want to work with them.

    Before asking for rates ask to see their fraud prevention polices. If the loan agent has to check with his broker or comes back with one sheet of paper just walk out the door and feel good about it. If they start quoting policy and pull out a document you reasonably understand and would only really trust your lawyer to comprehend your probably on the right track. Always ask how your information will be protected and make sure you hold them to it. Also if you think they are asking for something unreasonable ask to see the lenders condition log. If they can prove the lender is asking for it you shouldn’t fight the broker. It only encourages them to do something stupid with your information.

    That’s about all I have. If your in the same industry and have advise please leave it or let me know what you think I got wrong. Thanks for reading and stay safe everyone.

  42. Rob says 08 July 2010 at 05:50

    @ Bridgette I think this is what you are looking for. Basically you freeze your credit so no one can open new credit accounts. If you ever need to open it up you would have to pay a fee, around $30 to each of the three reporting agencies. But if you are not planning on opening any new credit within the next few years it is probably worth it.

    http://clarkhoward.com/topics/credit_freeze_states.html

  43. Chickybeth says 08 July 2010 at 06:13

    @ Ricki & Scott: The school has to give the government the SSN of every child who attends the school to receive funding. Illegal immigrants who send their children to school here have to “borrow” a SSN from someone else to get them in, but it is supposed to make it so only US citizens are attending US schools.

    Knowing how easy it is for anyone to see and use your SSN, I guess I’m not that worried about giving it out. I check my credit reports vigorously for anything suspicious,but I know that if someone really wanted to take my # there is nothing I can do about it.

    @#40 (Paul) I come to GRS to avoid comments like yours. It has nothing to do with the post and it’s just annoying!

  44. honeybee says 08 July 2010 at 09:29

    Another great post, thanks April.

  45. Paula says 08 July 2010 at 13:14

    As far as Comcast wanting your SS# (which I find ridiculous), just give them a fake number. They will never know. Then write the fake number that you gave Comcast down someplace, so you can regurgitate it to them when you speak to them over the phone and customer service asks for it.

  46. EmmBee says 08 July 2010 at 23:26

    The biggest issue I am having is that I am unemployed, and a lot of employers have their job applications online where they ask for a SSN. I’ve tried leaving it blank, but I usually get an error message that it is required, so I have to fill in something to complete the application. I could put in something obviously fake, like 999-99-9999, but I’m worried the employer will not consider me because they’ll think that’s suspicious.

    On the other hand I could just use a random fake number, which would probably work at the start, but then at the end of the application, they all require a “signature” that I’ve provided correct information and that any fraudulent information will lead to dismissal. I would hate to get hired, then fired when I give them my real SSN, and they realize I lied on my application, even if I felt my reasons were justified.

    Which, considering that one place I sent my resume to turned out to be a data mining scam for an educational loan company, IS justified. I don’t have any problem furnishing my number to someone who has hired me; it’s not really optional. But I’m really unhappy with all the places who request it just for the chance I might get hired, especially when I have no knowledge of who has access to the application or how it’s kept, or where it goes when they toss it.

  47. Kim says 11 July 2010 at 15:03

    @EmmBee – I put “upon hire” in the SSN filed whenever possible, but I can see where you are coming from. It won’t usually work with online applications. I think the 999-99-9999 would be better in your scenario, as it is pretty obvious that it’s not real–if you made one up, they could think you’re trying to scam them.

  48. mike says 19 July 2010 at 22:28

    Once i had an issue with the local bloodbank asking/requiring my SSN. i balked. The woman at the ‘processing table’ didn’t like that someone would refuse her request and proceeded to tell me that i would NOT be allowed to donate blood without the number being divulged.

    i quickly pointed out that my SSN was issued by a FEDERAL agency, and that without a damn-good reason or some written legal authority, a county volunteer agency – such as a bloodbank – wasn’t quite at the same level.
    “Besides,” i told her
    “YOU’RE agency is asking ME to do THEM a favor by donating much-needed blood.

    i don’t have to do this.

    Go get your supervisor – or better yet – go get whomever is IN CHARGE of this donation facility.”

    She tried to assert that she was the highest authority i was going to chat with at that time, so i raised my voice for others in the area to hear, and said
    “Lady, without the PROPER level of authority – which YOU OBVIOUSLY don’t have, by sitting at a form table, you are NOT going to get my personal information withOUT knowing by WHAT AUTHORITY you’re asking that information FOR – now GO GET SOMEONE IN CHARGE of this facility, or i WALK – AND – i contact the local media to tell them about this possibly breach of security.”

    After talking to a higher authority (which magically was quickly found), i was able to negotiate with them that my state-issued drivers license would suffice.

    Sometimes you have to stand up for your rights.

  49. John says 04 August 2010 at 13:23

    I have a concern. We are suppose to safeguard our identity by not carrying our social security cards in our wallet with other ID’s and such. That is common sense. I noticed my 16 year old son had his social security card in his wallet and I told him that he should not do that and explained why. He took out his social security card and showed me on the card where it said that you should carry your card with you in your wallet. I was quite surprised by this. It makes no sense to me why they print this on the card. This is not protecting our youths identity or anyone elses who follows this advise.

  50. Larry says 13 August 2010 at 12:31

    When a company (like the cable company) wants my SSN, I give them a fake one. Example: I simply increase each number in my real SSN by one digit. That way I always know the fake SSN I gave them. So if my real SSN starts out 315, I tell them its 426.

    Story: We have random drug screens at work. When I got picked I called the office to find a location where I could got for the test, since I work at a remote location. The office told me the clinic would track my drug screen by my SSN, so the office (the Recruiting Dept.) wanted to know my SSN. I said you are just a vice on the phone. I do not know you. Besides, since you are at the company main office, don’t you already know my SSN.

    He said Personnel does has the SSN, but he does not have access to them in the Recruiting Dept. I said, well if Personnel does not want you to have access, neither do I.

    We went back and forth for a while. Eventually, he made up a SSN, told me the number and that is what I used.

  51. Master Allan says 11 September 2010 at 12:42

    I agree with Steve, #17, about the military. Currently I’m a contractor as part of operation Iraqi freedom. My employer’s contract has been renewed therefore our CACs (ID cards) require renewal & reissue. We’ve been instructed to fill out a common accessed spreadsheet on a network share with DOB, POB, full name, address, and SS#. A goldmine for ID theft. I’ve been holding out but fear to otherwise not annoy the site manager I’ll have to voluntary provide this information for anyone to copy or view.

    Best case, nothing happens. Worst case, it’s compromised by someone negligent, malicious, lost, or possibly even given away if someone has a grudge against me. I signed up for TrustedID already and think taking it one step further with a credit freeze is in order. But all the ID-theft prevention efforts I have taken over the years are now wiped out as I am now voluntarily providing identity information to strangers. I will always have the uncertainity wondering if someone is walking around with that excel file on a flash drive just waiting for the right time to exploit.

  52. Mac says 07 February 2011 at 15:49

    Paul says:
    07 July 2010 at 11:48 pm
    “If you want to help someone steal your identity, give out your Social Security number. If you want to help someone dip into your bank account, give out your Social Security number.
    “Face it, we live in a country full of bureaucratic nitwits and busybodies. This used to be the country of the free and the brave. The bureaucrats want a country full of chickens with everyone marching in lockstep. “Stand up for your rights. Stand up for your convictions. Do not cooperate with those who are paving paradise, turning it into a parking lot, putting trees into a tree museum, and charging you a dollar and a half to see them – words and music by Joni Mitchell. Fight ‘em!”

    Good for you, Paul. Do without a job. Do without a bank account. Do without a car. Do without a driver license. Do without a place to live. Unless you have prepared from childhood for living without using a SSN, even if you really don’t have one, you will most likely end up living under bridges and eating at soup kitchens (most don’t require a SSN – yet).
    Or you will have to associate with a bunch of shady characters (“tax patriots” or worse) who will rip you off worse than the government and business put together. Oh – and when you get arrested, if you don’t give the cops your SSN, prepare for an extended stay. And when you get to court, and won’t give your SSN to the judge, you may get an even longer stay at taxpayers’ expense. Paul, I KNOW: I went through this for 20 years. Many will claim that THEY do just fine without a SSN. But are they telling the truth? One I knew left his wife’s 1040 lying on his desk. He was filtering his money through her, thus exposing her to risk and putting her in the position of having to betray him to protect her and their child. The “I live without a SSN” people are loath to share their knowledge with you. Why? They live off selling you their knowledge, which is usually about how to rip off other gullible people like you who were willing to pay $1500 or more for their secret info. ($1500 is a CHEEP one! Some will take a mark for $10K or more. I read of one who took a large group of over 100 marks for over $100,000 each! He was sharp enough to skip the country after having transferred the loot ahead of himself. Others just can’t give up the easy money and end up in prison.)

  53. Paul says 16 June 2012 at 09:58

    Social security number required by companies/doctors/sites which really do not need it..make one up. Last place that had to have one or they could not supply the service, after a futile arguement, I just made one up.

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  55. Denise says 08 April 2014 at 09:19

    I am just curious too, as to why I need to put the ss# on the check with which I am paying my taxes to the irs! I know why I am paying taxes, but why is it it deemed necessary to put the number on the check where it may go through several hands of people that don’t need it (handlers, bankers, etc. ) before or even after it reaches it’s destination.

  56. Shawnee says 23 July 2014 at 11:48

    Everything is very open with a precise clarification of the challenges. It was really informative. Your website is useful. Many thanks for sharing!

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