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Doctors don't need your Soc. Sec. number

Lots of businesses, offices and schools ask you to provide a Social Security number when they don't need it. Handing it over could expose you to identity theft.

By MSN Money Partner Mar 28, 2013 2:35PM

This post comes from Adam Levin at partner site logoEvery time you go to a new doctor or dentist and they give you a clipboard brimming with documents to fill out and sign, notice how they always ask for your Social Security number? Do you dutifully give it up? Did you ever wonder if they really need it?


Image: Personal Information, Social Security Number, and Security © Fuse/Fuse/Getty ImagesI once asked a doctor why he wanted it. His response: "I don't really know. I guess it's because we've always asked for it." (In actuality, most doctors ask in case your insurance doesn't pay the entire invoice and/or to fill out a death certificate if you die. Offer a next of kin who knows the number instead, and your phone number for billing issues.)


Almost every day somebody asks for your Social Security number and, like the grand marshal of a parade throwing rose petals or candy to the crowd, you probably give it up without giving it a second thought -- because that's what you've always done.


So, the next time someone asks you for your Social Security number, reflect on this: In December, the Army announced that hackers stole the Social Security numbers of 36,000 visitors to Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, including intelligence officers. Cyber activists took control of the CIA's website. The private information, including some Social Security numbers, of celebrities and political leaders, including FBI director Robert Mueller and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, were exposed.


The sensitive data of First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder recently were posted on a website for the world to see.


Hackers even listened in on a phone call in which the FBI and Scotland Yard were discussing the criminal investigation against those very same hackers, The Washington Post reports.


And these incidents are only the crumbs on top of the coffee cake when you consider that hackers and thieves have improperly accessed more than 600 million consumer files since 2004.


Monty Python had it right

The moral to these horror stories is that if your Social Security number is stored on any computer anywhere, hackers will find a way to access it, or a compromised or disgruntled employee may well walk out the door with it. If your doctor, gym, or child's grade school claims otherwise, that their security systems can protect your private data better than the CIA, FBI and Scotland Yard, to quote Monty Python: "Run away!"


Your identity is your biggest asset, and your Social Security number is the key to your personal kingdom. With it an identity thief can wreak havoc, hijacking your old credit accounts, establishing new ones, buying cars and houses, committing crimes, even obtaining medical products and services while pretending to be you, endangering not just your credit and your reputation, but also your life.


Consumers whose Social Security numbers are exposed in a data breach are five times more likely to become fraud victims than those who aren't, according to the latest identity fraud report by Javelin Strategy & Research.


Just say no

For better or worse, you are the gatekeeper. The person most responsible for shielding your Social Security number is you. Therefore, your mission is to limit, as best you can, the universe of those who gain access to it.


Here's a short list of companies and organizations that have absolutely no business requesting your Social Security number:


Anyone who calls or sends you an official-looking email, who texts you a link to any site or designates a number to call where you are asked to confirm your SSN. If they call, check the credit or debit card that is the subject of the communication, call the customer service number listed on the back, and ask for the security department. If they email or text, do the same, or go directly to the institution's website (provided you know who they are). Make sure you type the correct URL, and make sure that the page where you are asked to enter your information is secure. Only provide personal information if you’re the one who controls the interaction.


Public schools. Your utility bill confirms your address. Your email and phone number give them channels to contact you in an emergency. Asking for your Social Security number is overkill.


Little League, summer camp and the like. For the same reasons, a Social Security number should never be required by these groups. If they ask for your child's birth certificate, show it to them, but don't leave it with them unless they can prove they will protect it. And even then, can you really believe them? If you use credit to pay for the activity, the organization may need your Social Security number. If you pay for it upfront or with a direct debit to your bank account or credit card, they don't. Period.


Supermarkets. A frequent-shopper card is neither a loan nor a bank account. It's merely a tool grocery stores use to track your purchases, primarily for marketing purposes. Regardless, many supermarket chains request customers' Social Security numbers on their application forms. Refuse.


Anybody who approaches you on the street, whether it's a cellphone company salesman offering a free T-shirt or someone running a voter registration campaign. Never, ever give your SSN. If you want an ill-fitting T-shirt festooned with corporate logos, buy one. If you want to register to vote, go to your county board of elections in person.


This is the short list. There are plenty of other organizations that should never get your Social Security number, and if you know one that I've left out, please leave it in the comments.

Don't just hand it over

Once you realize how often you are asked for your Social Security number, you may be surprised. It happens literally all the time. So, the next time someone does, as they inevitably will, here's how to handle it:

  • Take a minute and think. Maybe they ask for SSNs blindly, because everyone else does, or because that's how they've always done it. Maybe they actually need it. See if their reason sounds legitimate. (For example,'s Credit Report Card does ask for your SSN in order to generate your credit score and credit report summary -- an industry standard -- but the information is fully encrypted with a bank-level authentication process.)
  • Negotiate. There are many different ways to identify you without a Social Security number, including your driver's license or account number. Fight to use those instead.
  • If you must share your Social Security number, do so, but make sure the people taking it down have strong security measures in place to protect it. That said, you only have their assurance and, frankly, in light of the mistakes people make and the sophistication level of hackers, who really knows if they can protect it?

Overcoming the addiction

If all this sounds like a giant pain in the neck, you're right. It is. In the midst of our busy lives, we shouldn't be the only ones concerned with protecting our most valuable identity asset, but it is what it is. Until somebody creates a silver bullet for identity theft, we are forced to take matters into our own hands.


Don't be passive. Ask the companies and nonprofit groups with which you do business how they plan to protect you. Do they password protect and encrypt all the personal information they collect? Do they have strict controls on who has access to computers containing your Social Security number, and do they keep this sensitive data off laptops, tablets and hard drives that are easy to steal or lose?


Like the doctor I met, many companies collect Social Security numbers they don't need because they're operating on autopilot. They've always done it, and their colleagues at other companies do it, so the practice continues and spreads on the strength of simple, dumb inertia.


I believe we are smarter than that. By demanding that companies do a better job protecting our personal information, and refusing to hand out our Social Security numbers like candy at a parade, we can force them to get smarter, too. And if they don't think we're serious about this and the government doesn't finally force them off their Social Security number addiction, it is highly likely that the ultimate regulator of the American economic system, class-action attorneys, will be knocking on their doors.


More on and MSN Money:

Mar 28, 2013 4:14PM
Years ago I got tired of fighting with offices and companies who had absolutely no reason to have my SSN.  Solution:  Make up a number.  They never check it, and if someone in the office decides to start stealing information for identity theft or whatever, you are safe.  

Apr 19, 2013 4:50AM
You guys are crazy! All of you business people, insurance, docs, dentists especially cops and bail bondsmen..You all should know the laws..and ignorance of the law is no excuse!! The laws clearly state that it is a FELONY for anyone to demand your ssn. You all can be sued and I have won cases against cops, credit and collection agencies. It is also said right on the ssn card and application that you do not need a ssn nor does your ssn identify you in anyway shape or form nor can it be used to identify you or you use it to identify you. Not for identification purposes! No one has the right to ask for the ssn and all those that do are either liars or they were trained wrong. I don't care for one second if people don't like the truth I am speaking, do you own research and actually go learn something! The laws are there for a reason and yes, I am a lawyer in fact!
Mar 29, 2013 11:23AM
My old employer would put your SSN on the memo line of paychecks.  They would leave them in your mail slot at work.  After I left they decided to save money and do something green.  So they stopped using envelopes, so not only was your paycheck sitting in your box not in an envelope but anyone could grab it, read your wage, your address and your SSN.  Someone complained right away, so they made you pick up your check from the secretary.  Only they had a list on the counter of your name and SSN to check off when you picked it up. For everyone to see. Another fit from the same person and that was stopped too.  They thought the person complaining was paranoid! That person who complained was my boyfriend at the time. 
Apr 19, 2013 6:30AM

You should never give your SS# to any employer before being actually hired. Putting your social on a job application and handing to the girl or guy at the desk is just stupid.


Showing your drivers license to a store clerk is just as stupid. Even if the card is not yours What can the clerk do about it?


 Filling out all these applications to find work and putting sensitive info on them just violates you later. In most cases you will not even know where the fraud is coming from.


Putting your Social Security Number on things Like CAR Insurance. Why? All they do is run your credit report. That is just to violate you and charge you more. Credit has nothing to do with Insurance at all. If you do not pay for the policy you are not covered -There is no credit involved.


As far as employment-Why would your credit report ever come into play. If you have great credit does that mean you can do the job better than someone that has bad credit.


Credit Reports have hurt this country in a Thousand Ways. Mostly because the info about you normally is wrong. I have seen people loose their whole life's work to handing out their social security number and letting anyone run your social security number.


You only get one number your whole life even after you have been violated the government refuses to give you another.


The fair credit act-needs to be fixed. A credit report is not needed for anything other than if you apply for credit . Yet the credit reporting outfits sells your info all the time without you knowing it. Even if you freeze your credit report they still violate you. The country went with this NON-SENSE.


 Your social Security Number is the most important thing in your life GIVE IT TO NO ONE....

When I enlisted in the USMC in 1969 they issued me a "service number" that they tattooed on every issue item I had. Several years later it was decided that all military personnel would use their SSN as an ID number. Since the SSN is still used as a military identifier, has it become a problem? When your seabag rolls through the airport with those nine digits on the bottom is some jerk recording the number?
Apr 19, 2013 8:25AM
I still have my original Social Security card , and it says on it " FOR SOCIAL SECURITY PURPOSES , NOT FOR IDENTIFICATION . When did this all change ?
Apr 19, 2013 8:38AM
I remember when I got mine back in 1966. The man at the SS office very sternly told me to memorize it and put it away in a safe place ONLY give it to your employer , irs and  SS when it's time to collect. Mine said right on it NOT TO BE USED FOR IDENTIFiCATION.Maybe because I was just a young kid at the time,was the reason that he repeatedly drove home that point,also telling me that it was against the law for anybdy else to even ask for it.  WTF  happened?? Now every doctor lawyer and indian chief wants it
Apr 14, 2013 2:04PM
A doctor or dentist will deny service if they don't get your social security number, especially if they are to bill your insurance company.  They also use it to report negatively against your credit if you don't pay.  I've walked out of doctors office sick and untreated for not giving Social security number.
Apr 19, 2013 5:20AM
Your health insurance number is more than sufficent info for medical claims to be paid....UNLESS it is Medicare....that number IS your SSN! Same with Tricare....refusing to give your Medicare card will likely result in you being sent the bill. Make a COPY of your Medicare card and black out all but the last 4 digits.....and NEVER carry your SS card with you! I work in health care and I am amazed at the the number of people who never SIGN the Medicare card. An unsigned card, if you lose it, is like gold to a person looking to take over your identity! SIGN that card! 
Apr 19, 2013 5:30AM
Many medical insurance companies still use the SS number for identification.  It is the only way for our Doctor to identify you and confirm your coverage.  We need to urge those companies to change their systems to use another unique ID number.
Apr 19, 2013 8:29AM
SO why is your ssn all over your medicare card..?this should be changed! Medicare needs too look on ways to change this..
Apr 19, 2013 6:13AM
I was asked for my ssn purchasing a fishing license in another state, afterward I regretted giving it out.  What's the worse thing that could happen, me not catching FISH on my vacation!
Mar 29, 2013 12:07PM

While I agree with many of the people you have listed who do not need your social security number (ssn), you are wrong about your doctor not needing it. See your mistake was you asked "a doctor'.  His job is to deal with your health issues, he pays someone to deal with the business of your health issues. Someone like me. I have owned a medical billing company for about 21 years now. I have seen many changes over the years & yet I can tell you without hesitation that we still use many patient's ssn when dealing with insurance companies a large percentage of the time. In fact, it is an absolute necessity to have it for patients with Medicare, Tricare (military) and those covered by unions  & trust funds.  We can not submit a claim for benefits without a social security number (ssn), they will not even accept without one. Then there are the commercial carriers like Aetna, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, United Healthcare, etc who in light of this issue now assign their insured with a unique ID# in place of using your ssn. In this case, yes, people be smart, USE THE CARD they send you. If they send you a new one you need to give the doctors office a copy of it. It needs to be neat, clean & readable. If you do not have it, the only other way to get your benefits & coverage information, as well as submit your claims for payment, is with your ssn. Last but not least, yes, we use it for collection purposes if you do not pay your bill. We do our best to collect your deductibles, co pays & co-insurance up front, but if your benefits end up being different than what we are told when we call for them, then you the patient are responsible for the amount as indicated by your insurance company. Trust me, we do not like it anymore than you do. That said, you should realize that healthcare is a business. The doctor should be paid for the expertise & service he provides. My point being that if you do not pay your bill, just like a credit card or utility bill, we have to go thru the collections process & that requires your ssn. Therefore simply giving me your phone number that you can change on a whim is not going to cut it.  In conclusion, if you do not want to give your doctor your ssn that is your right & your choice,  but then you should be prepared to pay for your services up front & in full. 

Apr 19, 2013 9:34AM
I can't even stand it when a cashier says "phone number?" when I walk up to the regester with my purchases!  I say "no thank you".  She looks stunned!  She is used to all the sheeps just spouting off their phone number with no concern for privacy at all.
Apr 19, 2013 5:06AM
When it was started it was illegal to use the SS # for anything but SS. I believe it was the Infernal Revenue Service that changed that by using it for an identity number. Then the banks needed it to report your interest & it ballooned from there. 
There didn't used to be any Credit Bureaus as we know them now. When a business called the credit bureaus then all they got was a list of numbers. Those numbers related to the businesses that had called about you before & they each had to be contacted to see what they had on you.
There was no credit rating or number for you. Each creditor simply gave their opinion of your credit standing with them. The best rating was AA meaning as agreed. Unless absolutely necessary I have always refused or given a bogus number.
Apr 19, 2013 9:18AM
The University of Georgia wants it before they allow you to be a full-fledged Master Gardener so they can run a full background check.  They must think you are going to commit a crime while planting corn or something.
Apr 19, 2013 6:45AM

I realized several years ago the biggest threat to your identity is the police themselves. I've had a police scanner. Sometimes when they call in your license information the dispatcher further identifies you with D.O.B., eye/hair color, height, address and everything else on that card.

Not all criminals are stupid! I've memorized My license number for those rare times I don't carry it on and will not give it out even to a cop. I haven't been arrested for it yet, but have been threatened with it.

Apr 19, 2013 10:33AM

Relative to the suggestion that someone just "make up a [ss] number"- what if you end up putting down someone else's SSN?  Haven't you in some way, although inadvertently, committed fraud?


Apr 19, 2013 10:20AM
I can't stand it when people ask me for my SSN.  I work as an independent contractor and specifically obtained a EIN to avoid giving out my SSN.  A few weeks ago, one of my clients asked for my number on a workman's comp form.  I informed them that I didn't want to give it out and gave them my EIN instead.  They said "Well, you won't get paid".  WHAT!!!! this was on a $10,000 contract.  I was basically forced to give it to them.

Total BS that everyone needs you SSN to do business.

Apr 19, 2013 9:21AM
I have never given it to ANYONE.  If they want to argue about it, sometimes I argue, sometimes I say "I don't know it"  What are they going to do, skip my dr appt?  Noooooo, they want to bill my insurance so they will not Skip my appt.  Just say NO people, I can't believe anyone gives it out at all.
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