Identification documents (social security, driver license and credit cards) in hand of thief, isolated on white.

Remember when your Social Security number was a secret known only by you and the Social Security Administration? No? Neither does anyone else.

Somewhere along the line this unique code, given to you at birth to ensure the veracity of your dealings with a single governmental organization, morphed into a kind of national ID number. And there are all kinds of problems with that notion.

Unfortunately, people have become so used to being asked for it that many simply cough it up on demand these days. But the truth is, there are any number of instances when you can legally refuse to provide your Social Security number. And here are 6 of them: 

1. When Applying for a Job

If there is a space on the job application for your Social Security number you are under no obligation to provide it. Since the organization you are applying to is not yet your employer they have no legitimate reason for having this information.

They can ask – and many will because it makes it easier for them to do a background check on you – but you are under no obligation to provide it; even if there is one of those nifty little red stars next to the box that indicates you have to.

If you are refused a job because you did not provide a Social Security number on the application you have grounds to sue. So when is the right time to provide a potential employer with your SSN? When they have informed you they intend to hire you. Not before.

2. When Applying to or Registering with School

There are many types of ID that you may need to provide in order to apply to or register with a school. You might have to show a birth certificate or driver’s license or perhaps even a passport.

In addition, you may be asked to provide utility bills to prove that you live where you are claiming to live. But no school, especially a public school, has a right to demand you provide a SSN to be considered for admission. In fact, it is illegal for public schools to suggest you must supply a Social Security number as a condition for admission. The only time a school or university can insist you supply a SSN is if you are applying for financial aid because they’ll be able to use it to verify your family’s income situation.

3. At the Doctor’s Office

This one surprises a lot of people but the only time a health care provider has a right to know your Social Security number is if there is some form of credit check involved or Medicaid is involved or if the transaction has to be reported to the IRS for some reason.

Other than that ordinary visits to the doctor come with no obligation for you to provide this information. And that’s true even if you are making a hasty visit to the emergency room. The only reason most doctors ask for your social security number is so that they can give it to a collection agency should you skip out on the bill. Be aware however, that unlike schools, a doctor can refuse to treat you if you refuse to provide the SSN. That’s because most doctors are independent contractors and as such can set whatever terms of service they want that aren’t blatantly discriminatory. 

4. When Applying for Other Government Benefits

The Social Security Administration and the IRS have a right to insist on your SSN but most other government agencies typically do not.

The Privacy Act of 1974 in fact compels government agencies to inform you if you are legally obligated to comply with their request for a Social Security number. If the agency has no legal right to demand it they cannot refuse you services or benefits because you refused to provide a Social Security number.

5. When Booking Travel

It’s uncommon but not unheard of for booking agents or others to ask for a Social Security number when booking a hotel room or reserving a rental car etc. But you are under no obligation to provide it. In fact, you should make a point not to.

When making any kind of travel arrangements a driver’s license or passport number should suffice. Anyone asking for a SSN is simply fishing for information they have no business possessing.

6. When Applying for a Store Loyalty Card 

You will need to provide your Social Security number when applying for a credit card, personal loan or mortgage (how that particular corruption came to be is a story in and of itself), but not if you are applying for a loyalty card at your favorite department store.

That’s because with a loyalty card you’re not actually applying for credit, you’re just getting a card that will track purchases so you can get reward points. If you see a space on a loyalty card application for a Social Security number skip right over it. If the store won’t process your application without it take your business somewhere else.

Bonus Tip

In 2017 nearly 70 percent of identity theft and consumer fraud originated with a phone call. That is, someone called the victim and pretended to be this or that company or agency and the victim gave them their personal information, including their Social Security number. Never, repeat never, give out your Social Security number to someone who has called you out of the blue. Even if they seem to know who you are or claim to represent a company you have done business with in the past, don’t do it. In all likelihood it’s some type of scam. 

Your Social Security number may have taken on a life outside the confines of the Social Security Administration but that doesn’t mean you have to give it out to everyone that asks for it. The more you know about your rights regarding this vital piece of personal information the less likely you will be to ever suffer identity theft or other types of fraud.