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Keeping Your Social Security Number Private

By Allie Seligman on July 13th, 2016

Name, address, date of birthdate, Social Security number. How many times have you filled out those fields on a form, not giving a second guess as to whether you should provide the information?

Unfortunately, the security breaches, leaks and attacks that have become so common show your information is safe in few hands. (If the CIA and FBI can’t guarantee security, what hope does a local dentist office have?) That means it’s up to you to limit the damage.

Companies and institutions generally err on the side of asking for more info than they need, and that’s especially true when it comes to your Social Security number.

Instead of handing it out to anyone who asks, educate yourself on when you’re required to provide your Social Security number and when you can say “no thank you.”

A quick note: Remember, your Social Security number is a key part of your identity. Fraudsters can use it to, among other things, create and use credit accounts, take out loans, make large purchases, defraud the government or obtain medical treatment. It’s yours to protect and yours to keep private.

The same goes for your child’s Social Security number. He or she isn’t in a position to protect that number, so it’s up to you as the parent.

When to say no

  • Public schools: Elementary and high schools have no need for Social Security numbers, whether yours or your child’s. Your full name, phone number, child’s birth certificate and proof of address should be enough.
  • College or university: Your school does not need your Social Security number, and it should in no situation be used as an ID number. If you are asked for the number, request a student ID number created by and for school only.
  • Volunteer organizations: Though you may fill out paperwork to make volunteer work official, providing your Social Security number is a step too far. The same goes for sports leagues, camps and extracurricular activities.
  • Retail establishments: The grocery store doesn’t need your Social Security number to give you a membership card, neither does a big box store or any other place with which you’re not attempting to open a bank account or secure a loan.
  • Hospitals and medical offices: You may raise your eyebrows at other examples, but it feels natural to provide your Social Security number to every doctor, dentist and other medical professional who asks. But why is it necessary? Turns out it’s not. Medical record theft is all too common, and keeping your private information out of the wrong hands is more important than ever.