Better Business Bureau: You don’t have to give out your Social Security number

August 8, 2013 

It was kind of an awkward scenario standing at the counter of my dentist’s office. The receptionist handed me the standard forms and asked me to fill it out prior to receiving treatment.

I looked over the form thoroughly and examined the contents mentally filling it out before I sat down.

“Social Security No.”– Block number six was clearly labeled.

How many times I’d filled that out without thinking about the consequences. But, I’d come across an article that made me question why — why would my dentist need my social security number?

Social Security numbers can be obtained through data breaches, and theft, and online and telephone scams, stolen mail, wallets and purses, unsecured Internet sites, business records or papers at home or in the trash. They also can be bought from someone who has access to personal information at a business. A stolen SSN allows a criminal to create a new identity, apply for credit or a mortgage and even use the victim’s identity, if arrested.

People must enter their number for tax returns and federal loans, credit applications, government programs, financial institutions, employers and the Department of Motor Vehicles, according to the Social Security Administration (SSA). Social Security numbers are also required for credit reporting companies.

However, physicians, dentists, utilities, potential employers, employment recruiters, temp agencies and schools often ask people for their SSN. Some retailers, pawn shops and other businesses also ask for these numbers, and while there is no legal requirement to provide your Social Security number, no law prevents them from refusing to do business with you if you refuse.

When I challenged the need for my Social Security number, she had no absolute reason other than it’s “what we always ask for.” When I asked if the dentist would not see me if I didn’t fill it in, she replied probably not.

I flexed my muscles, left box number six blank, and had my dental exam.

Principally, if there is no compelling reason provided, you’re not required to give it.

Better Business Bureau offers these guidelines when asked to give your Social Security number, other than when legally required:

• Ask under what law the number is required.

• Find out if alternative methods of identification are acceptable, such as a driver’s permit or a phone number.

• In the case of employment recruiters or temp agencies, find out whether you may give your Social Security number directly to a potential employer.

• Determine who will have access to the data.

• Ask what steps are taken to protect your personal information?

Some businesses, such as wireless providers, car dealerships, furniture stores, may require a Social Security number to run a credit check, if you are applying for financing.

Public utilities are not legally entitled to demand your number and can obtain identity verification through other methods.

And lastly, never enter a Social Security number online or give it over the telephone or in email. Make sure tax and other documents that contain your SSN are locked in a safe place, shredded or properly disposed of when not needed.

Robb Hicken: 947-2115

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