When I first attended college, my student ID number was my Social Security number. This seemed a little sketchy to me, but I was 18, and I didn’t worry too much about it. A couple years later, they school changed its policy and we all got new student ID numbers that didn’t list our Social Security numbers.
On top of that, I’ve noticed that there is an option to include the Social Security number on your driver’s license in my state. I always check the box that says no, I do not want my SSN visible. I’ve become very protective of my SSN because I know how it can be used to steal my identity and open fraudulent accounts.
However, sometimes I feel as though I’m fighting a losing battle because Social Security numbers have basically become ID numbers. When the SSN was originally introduced, it wasn’t supposed to be a national ID. But with the digitization of information, and the rise of the credit industry, it’s been easy for the SSN to become the de facto national ID.
The good news, though, is that you don’t really need to provide your SSN every time it’s asked for. Just as there’s no need to write out your credit card number anymore, there is also no reason to share your SSN with anyone who asks. And if someone tries to tell you that your ID number is the same as your SSN, you usually have the option of asking them to assign you a different number for identification. There’s no reason to just hand over your personal information just because you’re asked. With data breaches becoming increasingly common, now is the time to take a deep breath and determine whether or not you really want to share your SSN.
Who Needs Your SSN?
When I go to the doctor, and fill out the information form, there is a space for my Social Security number. However, I usually leave that blank. My doctor doesn’t need my SSN; the office already has my insurance information. Likewise, the doctor also doesn’t need my spouse’s SSN (which is also asked for on the form).
In many cases, sharing your SSN isn’t very necessary. If you have a government issued ID, and other forms of identification, using your Social Security number as another form isn’t exactly required in most cases.
Unfortunately, there are times when you have to share that information. If you want to open a bank account or apply for credit, you will need to share your SSN, since that is the main way that credit reports are looked up. (This is something that probably ought to be changed.)
Additionally, you need to give your SSN to your employer. When you are hired, and filling out paperwork that results in your FICA taxes (which include money being taken out for Social Security), you need to provide your SSN.
However, even when you are in a situation where your SSN is required, you can still be careful. One common scam is for someone posing as an employer to ask for your Social Security number on the application. The reality is that you shouldn’t need to provide that information when you’re applying for a job. If someone asks for that information before you are hired, it makes sense to be very, very careful. You could be dealing with a scammer.
Your SSN and Your Business
If you own your own business, one of the best things you can do is get an Employer Identification Number (EIN). You should use your EIN for all business-related items. Filling out a 1099? Use your EIN. Signing up for credit or working with vendors? Provide your EIN. This is a good way to keep your personal Social Security number more protected.
Even if you are a sole proprietor, it makes sense to apply for an EIN, just so that you can use that number, instead of spreading your SSN about.
And, of course, you want to make sure that you keep tabs on your credit, just to make sure that your identity hasn’t been compromised.