Social Security Number

The Social Security Number (SSN) was not initially conceived as a unique identifier for individuals. In fact, The Social Security Administration used to print the disclaimer “FOR SOCIAL SECURITY PURPOSES NOT FOR IDENTIFICATION” on every social security card. However, many institutions still use an individual’s SSN as a unique identifier.

Under current federal guidelines, SSN can be used by an employer or financial institution for wage and tax reporting purposes. Other businesses may require SSN for these same reasons. An SSN can be used to do a credit check by a landlord or loan company, as well as when you sign-up for a credit card. However, there are many times that SSN is used for record keeping.

An even greater risk comes from identity thieves posing to be representatives of a bank, credit card company, or government agency.

Deter identity theft. If someone asks for your SSN, ask:

  • why do you need my SSN?
  • how will it be used?
  • how do you protect it from being stolen?
  • what will happen if I don't give it to you?

Some institutions may not provide you services without your SSN. Having the answers to these questions will help you choose whether to give the information or not. It will also help you recognize fraudulent requests.

No instituion should ever use your SSN as a unique identifier.  If you ever see an account number or are given a login ID that is your social security number we suggest calling the provider immediatly and requesting they use a different identifier.