Fact Sheet 10a:
Social Security Numbers FAQ


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Copyright © 2006 - 2014
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
Posted June 2006
Revised December 2013

This FAQ is an addendum to our Fact Sheet 10 on Social Security numbers (SSNs). It provides answers to questions we are often asked by individuals who contact us by phone and e-mail.

  1. A company I do business with recently called and left a message on my answering machine asking for my SSN and date of birth. I've heard one should never give out this information over the phone. Can they do this? Is it normal to ask for this information?
  2. I gave out my Social Security number over the phone and now I am worried that it is a scam. What should I do?
  3. Someone knows my personal information and Social Security number, but I do not trust the person. What can I do to protect myself?

  4. I tried to open a new account with a private business, but the business requires my Social Security number. They say they will not do business with me without the number. I do not want to give it out. What are my rights?

  5. Can a state use my Social Security number as my drivers' license number?
  6. My wallet was stolen and it had my Social Security card in it. What should I do?

  7. I am unhappy that my Social Security number appears on my Medicare card [or my insurance card]. Is there anything I can do to protect myself?

  8. Can a patient's Social Security number be used as a patient account number when paying medical bills? I was under the impression that Social Security numbers were not supposed to be used as identifiers.
  9. Is there a way to get a different Social Security number? I'm a victim of identity theft and the imposter is opening up new accounts using my name and SSN. [or] Someone has stolen my wallet with my SSN in it.

  10. Do I have to give my SSN over the phone to opt-out of pre-approved credit card offers?

  11. How can I find out what my state legislature is doing to protect my Social Security number?

  12. Is it against the law for an insurance company to use my Social Security number as my identification number?
  13. Does Medicare law say I have to give my SSN to a group health plan?

  1. A company I do business with recently called and left a message on my answering machine asking for my SSN and date of birth. I've heard one should never give out this information over the phone. Can they do this? Is it normal to ask for this information?
  2. This sounds unusual. You should call the company at a telephone number that you know to be correct and ask them why they want this information. Usually you are not legally compelled to provide your Social Security number to private businesses unless you are involved in a transaction in which the Internal Revenue Service requires notification. Additionally, The Patriot Act requires financial institutions to verify customers' identities, which can involve the SSN. For more information see Fact Sheet 31, available at: www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs31-CIP.htm.

    If the company insists on knowing your Social Security number when you cannot see a reason for it, ask to speak to a manager who may be authorized to make an exception or who may know whether company policy or the law requires it. The same should be true for your date of birth. Remember that the company has the right to refuse you service for failing to provide this information. For additional information on protecting your Social Security number, please see our Fact Sheet 10 at www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs10-ssn.htm.

    There is always the possibility that the call might have been from a scam artist. Unfortunately, this type of fraud has been known to occur. In this situation, the caller is NOT from your bank or credit card company, but is a scamster who is attempting to collect your SSN and/or your account number in order to use it to commit identity theft. The best overall advice we can give to you is to NEVER give out such information unless YOU initiate the call.

  3. I gave out my Social Security number over the phone and now I am worried that it is a scam. What should I do?

    You should take the following steps to reduce the risk of new accounts being opened in your name:

    • Place a 90-day fraud alert on your credit reports by calling one of the three credit bureaus:
      • TransUnion  (800) 680-7289
      • Equifax  (888) 766-0008
      • Experian  (888) 397-3742
    • Monitor your credit reports very closely. After placing a fraud alert you will receive a letter explaining how to order your credit report. Placing a fraud alert allows you to order a free credit report. This is in addition to the free report you are entitled to order annually. Later on you can also order your free annual credit reports by calling (877) 322-8228 or by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com.
    • If you have evidence of actual or attempted identity theft, file a police report. Once you have the report you can request an extension of the fraud alert to 7 years. You will need to mail copies of the police report to the credit bureaus to qualify.
    • If you learn that fraudulent credit accounts have been opened, the credit issuers to close the accounts.
    • Consider freezing your credit.  For California, instructions are available at http://www.oag.ca.gov/idtheft/facts/freeze-your-credit.  For other states, see  http://www.clarkhoward.com/news/clark-howard/personal-finance-credit/credit-freeze-and-thaw-guide/nFbL/
    • Report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission's identity theft clearinghouse at (877) 438-4338, or online at www.consumer.gov/idtheft.
  4. Please read our identity theft victims' guide Fact Sheet 17(a) to make sure you have taken all the steps that are appropriate for your situation, www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs17a.htm.

  5. Someone knows my personal information and Social Security number, but I do not trust the person. What can I do to protect myself?
  6. It is a good idea to get in the habit of monitoring your credit reports. This way you can check if someone else has been successful in opening new accounts in your name ñ in other words, has committed identity theft using your personal information. The law allows you to get one free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus per year ñ Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. A no-cost way to monitor your reports is to order one report every four months.

    Once you receive your reports, carefully review each for accounts or inquiries you do not recognize. This is often the first sign of fraud.

    You can order your free credit reports by calling (877) 322-8228 or by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com.

  7. I tried to open a new account with a private business, but the business requires my Social Security number. They say they will not do business with me without the number. I do not want to give it out. What are my rights?
  8. Usually you are not legally compelled to provide your Social Security number to private businesses unless you are involved in a transaction in which the Internal Revenue Service requires notification. The Patriot Act requires financial institutions to verify customers' identities, which can involve the SSN.

    There is no law, however, that prevents businesses from requesting your SSN, and there are few restrictions on what businesses can do with it. But even though you are not legally required to disclose your SSN, the business does not have to provide you with service if you refuse to release it. So in a sense, you are strong-armed into giving your SSN. This is often the case when applying for insurance and opening utility accounts.

    But don't give up. Be sure to ask if there is an alternate number that you can provide to the company, such as your driver's license number. Also ask if you can provide a deposit rather than giving your SSN to the company.

    For more information and on advice for dealing with these situations see Fact Sheet 10 www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs10-ssn.htm

    For more information on Patriot Act requirements, see Fact Sheet 31, available at: www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs31-CIP.htm.

  9. Can a state use my Social Security number as my drivers' license number?

    Not any more. The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 prohibits states from displaying your SSN on drivers' licenses or motor vehicle registrations. The law went into effect on December 17, 2005, and applies to all licenses, registrations, and state identification cards issued after that date.
  10. If your current license still uses your SSN as the ID number, you can request that this be changed. You do not have to wait until it expires to get a new one with a different number on it. However, you might be charged a fee for this new issuance.

     
  11. My wallet was stolen and it had my Social Security card in it. What should I do?
  12. You should take the steps given in number 2 above to reduce the risk of new accounts being opened in your name.

    For more information, please read Fact Sheet 17(a) available at: www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs17a.htm

    We strongly advise that you do NOT carry your Social Security card in your wallet except on days when you need to show it to, say, to a new employer.

  13. I am unhappy that my Social Security number appears on my Medicare card [or my insurance card]. Is there anything I can do to protect myself?
  14. You can make a photocopy of your Medicare [or insurance] card. Take a black marker and cross out the last 4 numbers of your Social Security number. Or take a scissors and remove the last 4 digits. Then cut it down to card size and carry that with you instead of the actual card that has your full SSN on it. If your wallet is stolen, the thief will not obtain your full SSN and you will have significantly reduced your risk of new-account fraud. But remember: The first time that you visit your healthcare provider, bring the original Medicare card with you. The office is likely to want to photocopy it for its files.

    Be sure to tell your U.S. Senators and Congressional representative in Congress that you oppose the use of SSNs on the Medicare. If you are a member of the military, you might want to complain about the extensive use of the SSN as the military ID number. If they hear from enough people, they will be more motivated to pass laws that prohibit such uses. At the state level, tell your state legislative representatives that you favor a law like California 's that restricts the display and posting of SSNs. For more information about this law, visit http://www.oag.ca.gov/idtheft/facts/your-ssn

  15. Can a person's Social Security number be used as a patient account number when paying medical bills? I was under the impression that Social Security numbers were not supposed to be used as identifiers.
  16. Many health plans use the SSN as the patient identification number. We do not know of any restriction on using the SSN as an account number for medical accounts. Having said that, we believe it's a bad idea for companies to use the SSN for account numbers and other forms of customer identification because it puts their customers at risk for identity theft.

    There is a law in California that restricts the use of SSNs in some circumstances. This law restricts businesses and state and local agencies from publicly posting or displaying Social Security numbers. It also bans embedding SSNs on a card or document using a bar code, chip, magnetic strip or other technology.  For more information about these laws, visit http://www.oag.ca.gov/idtheft/facts/your-ssn

  17. Is there a way to get a different Social Security number? I'm a victim of identity theft and the imposter is opening up new accounts using my name and SSN. [or] Someone has stolen my wallet with my SSN in it.
  18. The Social Security Administration will issue a new number only in certain very extreme cases.

    A new Social Security number may be issued if you can prove that someone has stolen your number and is using it illegally. You must provide evidence that the number is actually being misused, and that the misuse is causing you significant harm on an ongoing basis. If your card has been lost or your number has fallen into the wrong hands, that's not enough. Further, the Social Security Administration will not give you a new Social Security number to aid in avoiding legal responsibility, or in hiding bad credit or a criminal record.

    To get a new Social Security number, you must visit your local Social Security field office. There is no fee. Here is the SSA's guide on obtaining a new SSN. www.socialsecurity.gov/ss5doc/

    We advise that you be proactive in avoiding any problems by taking precautionary measures. Please read our Fact Sheet 17 at www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs17-it.htm about numerous ways you can reduce your risk of identity theft. Most importantly, be sure to monitor your credit reports for unauthorized activity. You can order your free credit reports by calling (877) 322-8228 or by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com.

  19. Do I have to give my SSN over the phone to opt-out of pre-approved credit card offers?
  20. Yes. The phone number in question is (888) 5-OPT-OUT. It is shared by the three credit bureaus whose mailing lists are often used to generate the many solicitations for offers of credit or insurance that you receive in the mail.

    When you call this toll-free number to opt-out of receiving offers of credit, the automated voice system asks for the SSN along with your name, address, telephone number, and date of birth. Industry officials tell us that they need the SSN to match your request against the millions of records in their databases in order to make sure they are opting out the right "John Smith". To the best of our knowledge, the automated phone system is secure. Remember, the legitimate phone number to call is (888) 5-OPTOUT (888 567-8688).

    If you prefer not to disclose your Social Security number over the phone, you can use their online form instead, available at www.optoutprescreen.com. Your Social Security number is not required to process an opt-out request through OptOutPrescreen.com. However, their web site strongly urges you to provide this information because they say it helps to ensure that your request will successfully be processed.

  21. How can I find out what my state legislature is doing to protect my Social Security number?
  22. The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) has a web site that tracks proposed legislation. To find bills, visit the NCSL's home page, www.ncsl.org, and use its search feature with the phrase social security number legislation.

    The Government Accountability Office has a report on state laws restricting the uses of Social Security numbers available at www.gao.gov/new.items/d051016t.pdf. The report title is Social Security Numbers: Federal and State Laws Restrict Use of SSNs, yet Gaps Remain.

    Additional state-specific information on laws restricting the use of SSNs can be found at http://www.mofo.com/State-Statutes-Restricting-or-Prohibiting-the-Use-of-Social-Security-Numbers-11-07-2007/ and http://www.consumersunion.org/news/state-laws-restricting-private-use-of-social-security-numbers/.

  23. Is it against the law for an insurance company to use my Social Security number as my identification number?
  24. You should review the laws in your particular state to see whether this is permitted or not. The Government Accountability Office has published a list of state laws restricting the use of Social Security numbers available at www.gao.gov/new.items/d051016t.pdf

    The National Conference of State Legislators also has a Web site that tracks proposed legislation. To find SSN-related bills, visit the NCSL's home page, www.ncsl.org, and use its search feature with the phrase social security number legislation.

    California has a state law that prohibits companies from using a person's SSN as their ID number, and from publicly posting or displaying the number. Details about this state law are available at  http://www.oag.ca.gov/idtheft/facts/your-ssn

  25. Does a new Medicare law say I have to give my SSN to a group health plan?
  26. The Mandatory Insurer Reporting Law (Section 111 of Public Law 110-173) requires insurers to tell Medicare about all Medicare beneficiaries they provide coverage for. This means if either you or someone covered by your group healh plan is eligible for Medicare benefits, the insurer must collect the SSN for reporting to Medicare.

Copyright © Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. This copyrighted document may be copied and distributed for nonprofit, educational purposes only. For distribution, see our copyright and reprint guidelines. The text of this document may not be altered without express authorization of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.


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