What You Can Do to Protect Your Social Security Number

It's not a good idea to carry your SSN card with you (or other documents that contain your SSN). If you should lose your wallet or purse, your SSN would make it easier for a thief to apply for credit in your name or otherwise fraudulently use your number. Some states that normally use SSNs as the drivers license number will give you a different number if you ask. If your health insurance plan uses your SSN for an ID number, it's probably on your insurance card. If you are unable to get the insurance plan to change your number, you may want to photocopy your card with your SSN covered and carry the copy. You can then give a health care provider your number separately.


Here are some suggestions for negotiating with people who don't want to give you what you want. They work whether the problem has to do with SSNs (your number is added to a database without your consent, someone refuses to give you service without getting your number, etc.) or is any other problem with a clerk or bureaucrat who doesn't want to do things any way other than what works for 99% of the people they see. Start politely, explaining your position and expecting them to understand and cooperate. If that doesn't work, there are several more things to try:

  1. Talk to people higher up in the organization. This often works simply because the organization has a standard way of dealing with requests not to use the SSN, and the first person you deal with just hasn't been around long enough to know what it is.
  2. Enlist the aid of your employer. You have to decide whether talking to someone in personnel, and possibly trying to change corporate policy is going to get back to your supervisor and affect your job. The people in the personnel and benefits departments often carry a lot of weight when dealing with health insurance companies.
  3. Threaten to complain to a consumer affairs bureau. Most newspapers can get a quick response. Ask for their "Action Line" or equivalent. If you're dealing with a local government agency, look in the state or local government section of the phone book under "consumer affairs." If it's a federal agency, your congressmember may be able to help.
  4. Insist that they document a corporate policy requiring the number. When someone can't find a written policy or doesn't want to push hard enough to get it, they'll often realize that they don't know what the policy is, and they've just been following tradition.
  5. Ask what they need it for and suggest alternatives. If you're talking to someone who has some independence, and they'd like to help, they will sometimes admit that they know the reason the company wants it, and you can satisfy that requirement a different way.
  6. Tell them you'll take your business elsewhere (and follow through if they don't cooperate).
  7. If it's a case where you've gotten service already, but someone insists that you have to provide your number in order to have a continuing relationship, you can choose to ignore the request in hopes that they'll forget or find another solution before you get tired of the interruption.