Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona is offering guidelines to clear up confusion about when consumers are legally required to provide a Social Security number – and when they are not.
Utilities, financial institutions and private businesses use Social Security numbers for identity verification and filing systems, purposes for which the numbers were never intended.
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 enables a criminal to create a new identity, apply for credit or a mortgage and even use the victim’s identity if arrested.
According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), consumers are obliged to provide their number for tax returns and federal loans, credit applications, government programs, financial institutions, employers and the Department of Motor Vehicles. Social Security numbers are also required to obtain reports through the credit reporting companies.
However, consumers are often asked for their SSN by physicians, dentists, utilities, potential employers, employment recruiters, temp agencies and schools. 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.
BBB offers the following guidelines for consumers when asked to provide a Social Security number for other than legally-required purposes:
•Ask under what law the number is required.
•Find out if alternative methods of identification are acceptable, such as a driver’s permit or only the last four digits of your 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 this data.
•Ask what steps are taken to protect your personal information.
Some goods and service businesses such as wireless providers may require a Social Security number to run a credit check, as well as car dealerships if you are applying for financing. Public utilities are not legally entitled to demand your number and can obtain identity verification through other methods.