With all the online fraud and risk of identity theft, it is important than ever to stay vigilant when dealing with sensitive information, such as your social security number.

Just because someone puts a form in front of you and asks you to complete it, does not mean you must fill out all of the requested information. In a lot of cases some of that information is never even needed. It is just nice to have. Well, nice to have does not work for you!

The risk is that someone else gets their hands on it and use it for nefarious purposes.

Social Security Administration and the pervasive use of your nine-digit number

The original intent for the nine digit social security number was to give all united states citizens a unique number to track what they paid into the social security system as well as the related social security and medical benefits that could be received.

Since the number was unique, many other agencies and businesses used the social security number as well. Eventually it became common practice to put your social security number on all kinds of forms.

This may have seemed an efficient and smart use of this number at the time, but that quickly changed with the identity theft problems.

Job Applications

Should you put your social security number on a job application? My answer is “no.”

In many cases it is asked on a form but not really needed. Leave it blank and see if it comes up. If it does you can politely explain that you are not comfortable giving out the number until later in the hiring process. They should understand.

As some point during the hiring process you will need to provide it. That is fine. Once you are going to become an employee it makes sense. For the original application process it does not.

Often there are lots of job applications for the same job. Collecting a large number of such a sensitive piece of information is cavalier in my opinion.

Once a company decides they are going to give you a job offer, they may ask for your social security number so that they can run a background check or credit check on you. You are going to need to provide it if you get to this stage.

Once hired, they will also need a copy of your social security card and driver’s license to verify your citizenship and the number to set you up in their payroll system.

Identity Theft

Identity theft is a big problem these days. Your social security number is a critical piece to the puzzle for someone trying to commit identity theft against you.

That is why you need to be vigilant about protecting it. You want to avoid all the pain and headaches of becoming a victim of identity theft.

Freeze your credit

Freezing your credit is probably the best thing you can do to reduce the risk of identity theft. If your credit is frozen with each of the three main credit bureaus (Experian, Transunion and Equifx), it will be very difficult for anyone to borrow money pretending to be you. A frozen credit file will tell the potential lender of an identity fraudster not to loan out money due to the frozen file.

The thieves want money. If they can’t easily get it they will likely move on to another target. Most people don’t freeze their credit. They will be the lower hanging fruit for a potential fraud criminal, not you.

Freezing and unfreezing your credit just take a few minutes per bureau. It is worth the protection!

Legit reasons to provide your social security number

There are lots of legitimate reasons for you to provide your social security number. The main reason should be for social security benefits. The others primarily relate to borrowing money, filing tax returns, and holding brokerage or investment accounts.

Some legit reasons to provide your social security number include:

  • Federal and state tax purposes
  • Obtaining your credit report
  • Applying for social security benefits
  • Form W-4 for payroll withholding purposes
  • Obtaining your credit history or credit score
  • Opening a bank account
  • Financial institutions that will need it to report interest and dividend information on 1099’s for tax purposes
  • Credit card applications or others lending you money as they want to check your credit standing before determining how much credit to give you

Reasons NOT to provide your social security number

As previously discussed, a job application is not a legitimate reason to provide a social security number. Your potential employer will need the number at some point if they want to hire you, but not at the application stage. There are also fake online job application scams whereby a fake job is posted for job seekers just to get your social security number. Don’t fall for it!

When at a medical facility or doctor’s office, it is often not a good idea to provide your social security number, at least on the initial forms and applications. Often they will never ask for it if you leave it blank. Some may push for it later and you may end up needing to provide it or you can decide to take your business elsewhere.

The government used to print social security numbers right on Medicare cards. Due to all of the identity theft issues (name and social security numbers right on the card), a change was made a few years ago to reissue cards with a Medicare ID number rather than using social security numbers.

Never give out your social security number or other personal information to anyone who calls you on the phone and claims to be from an organization who needs it. No taxing authority, police authority or government agency will ask you for this information over the phone. Don’t fall for these scams!

When in doubt, always leave your social security number or other personal information off of forms and applications. If the requester really needs it, they will ask you again to fill it out. You can then have a candid discussion about how they intend to use it.

Summary: Should I put my social security number on forms and applications?

  • Your social security number is a key piece of information for you. Be vigilant in protecting it to deter identity theft
  • Job applications do not need your social security number. Leave that field blank. You can provide it later once the company plans to hire you.
  • Freezing your credit with the three major credit bureaus is probably the best step you can take to combat identity theft
  • There are legit reasons to provide your social security number – mainly related to borrowing money, filing tax returns, and opening a bank or investment account
  • When in doubt leave the number off of forms. If it’s really needed the requester can ask you again. You can then decide if you want to do business with them or not

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