Your Social Security Number – Do They Really Need It?


Unfortunately, Social Security Numbers can be obtained through data breaches, theft or by online and telephone scams. Some are stolen from the mail, wallets and purses, unsecured internet sites, business records or papers left in plain view at home or left un-shredded in the trash. They can also be purchased from anyone with 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.

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. While there is no legal requirement to provide your Social Security number, there is also no law to prevent them from refusing to do business with you if you decline.

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.

Here are guidelines for consumers to use if 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.
  • Keep in mind that 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.

Never enter a Social Security number online or give it over the telephone or via email to anyone they don’t know.  Ensure tax forms and other documents which contain your SSN are locked in a safe place or shredded and disposed of when not needed. Source: BBB of North Alabama

In the event your Social Security number is stolen, contact the Internal Revenue Service , or the Identity Theft Task Force, or call 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338).

To report a scam, go to the BBB Scam Tracker. To find trustworthy businesses, go to