Q&A – When You Should Give Out Your Social Security Number

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Today’s entry: Please clarify for me something I heard you say on Friday: It is illegal, for a company to require your SS#, in order for you to do business with them. The reason I'm asking for clarification: Verizon Wireless recently refused to allow me to take part in their $650. Special, solely due to my denying to give them my SS#. I spoke with a supervisor at Verizon, and she said that "As of May 1st, 2021, it is a company requirement that all new customers must give us their Social Security number so that we can do a 'soft credit check"

Bottom Line: Today’s note is in response to a conversation on Friday in which I was warning against unnecessarily providing your Social Security number. For years we’ve had countless organizations eagerly asking for our Social Security number for the purpose of identification which it was explicitly never to be used for. More importantly, in the era of rampant identity theft, the more entities which have your Social Security number, the greater the chance you’ll be a victim. Some clarification to what you took away from that conversation is necessary because exceptions to who has a right or even an obligation to obtain your Social Security number apply. First for when you can’t be legally denied service for not providing a Social Security number. 

Under the Privacy Act of 1974, it’s explicitly stated that you can’t be denied a government service or benefit for not providing a Social Security number unless it’s required by law. Commonly you might find schools that fall into this category. Another example might be at the local government level. For example, when I moved to my current home the local government requested my Social Security number for the purpose of setting up services. I refused, they pushed back, I won. That type of thing happens a lot. 

As for private businesses, it’s a whole other ballgame. There’s no law that explicitly states private businesses can’t request your Social Security number. So, even if they may not need it. However, there are times in which private businesses have legitimate reasons and even legal obligations to obtain it. One of the more controversial components of the Patriot Act was the inclusion of the Customer Identification Program.

It’s under that provision that the door’s been opened wide and it’s where your Verizon example comes into play. Under the Act, financial transactions which are included are insurance products, all lenders, and credit reporting agencies. If it’s Verizon’s new policy that all new customers are subject to a credit check, it does legitimize their claim for your Social Security number. They have a right to set their company policy provided it doesn’t discriminate on the basis of a protected class, just as you have a right to take your business elsewhere. This is where market forces enter the equation.

As for the guidance regarding use, I’ll leave you with what the Social Security Administration specifically advisesYou should be careful about sharing your number, even when you’re asked for it. You should ask why your number is needed, how it’ll be used, and what will happen if you refuse.

Each day I feature a listener question sent by one of these methods. 

Email: brianmudd@iheartmedia.com

Parler & Twitter: @brianmuddradio 

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