Who can legally ask for your Social Security Number?

You may be hesitant to give your Social Security Number (SSN) when applying for a job or asking for a service, yet you’re worried that your application won’t get approved or you’ll be denied assistance.

We understand your worries since it’s a sensitive piece of information scammers can use in fraudulent activities.

We checked official government sources on laws covering SSN use and researched reputable sources about when you should or shouldn’t give your SSN. We also read real-life stories of people who got their SSN compromised and what they did about it.

Below, you can learn about the one thing to reflect upon before giving your SSN. Don’t skip this article to avoid missing out on essential reminders that could prevent you from giving your SSN easily and compromising your information.

Who can lawfully request your Social Security Number?

Is it legal for someone to ask for your Social Security number? The answer’s yes, but not everyone’s entitled to know your SSN.

According to Title 31 of the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (e-CFR), an individual shall not be denied a right or benefit because the person refused to disclose his or her SSN. 

But it doesn’t apply to the disclosure required by federal statute and disclosure to any Federal, State, or local agency maintaining records to verify the identity of an individual.

Here are the government agencies legally authorized to ask for your SSN.

Departments of Motor Vehicles (DMV)

If you want to apply for a driver’s license or identification card, you must submit your SSN to the DMV. The department verifies your SSN and other information with the Social Security Administration (SSA) to ensure accuracy in every license or card.

Clearly, it’s under the second exception of e-CFR.

If the info you provide doesn’t match your records in the SSA, the department will not issue the driver’s license. This process helps prevent scammers from using other people’s information to get a new license or ID.

Tax authorities

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will ask for your SSN if you want to file tax returns or claim refunds. The SSN is actually a taxpayer identification number, so tax authorities are legally authorized to ask for it.

This is under the first exception of the e-CFR because of the Tax Reform Act of 1976, a federal statute.

Welfare offices

This is also under the second exception of the e-CFR. You need to provide your SSN to social services agencies, so they can check if you’re eligible for state benefit programs. It also prevents repeated claims of benefits under one name. 

The Privacy Act of 1974 requires any government agency at the local, state, and federal levels to:

  • Inform you whether the disclosure is mandatory or voluntary;
  • Cite laws or any authority that requires your SSN; and
  • Inform you of where they will use your SSN.

For example, if your local government agency asks for your SSN, you can ask about the three points above before giving such information.

IMPORTANT: Some offices may claim that your Social Security Number is required before approving your request, but you must be mindful of this one thing: ask what law authorizes them to ask for your SSN.

What other entities may ask for your SSN?

While the law may not explicitly say it, you may have to provide your SSN to the following entities:

Banks and credit companiesBanks and companies for which you’re applying for credit cards and loans will ask for your SSN for a credit check.

It helps them prevent fraud and identity theft because fraudsters may apply for loans or open accounts using another person’s SSN.
EmployersEmployers will ask for your SSN to conduct a thorough background check and for documentation purposes.
Three main credit bureausEquifax, Experian, and TransUnion will ask for your SSN to verify your identity and provide an accurate credit report.
Investment advisors and brokersThey need personal information, sometimes including SSN, to determine suitable investments, comply with tax laws, and follow anti-money laundering regulations.
Companies which you have a cash transaction of $10,000 and aboveCar, RV, and boat dealerships will ask for your SSN because cash transactions of $10,000 or more need to be reported to the IRS.
Companies facilitating real estate transactionsThey must report their transactions to the IRS, which requires your personal information, including SSN.

What are the places where you should never give your SSN?

You should think twice before giving your SSN to the following institutions or persons.

  • Colleges and universities
  • Hospitals and medical offices
  • Health insurers
  • Grocery and retail stores
  • Technology companies
  • Charities
  • Service providers
  • Strangers who call you, claiming that they’re from government offices.

Although charities may demand your SSN to conduct a background check, we recommend giving alternative information, which we will discuss later.

But if you’ve given your SSN to these companies, you might be wondering, “Can I sue someone for using my social security number?”

Yes, you can file criminal and civil complaints against identity thieves or entities that misuse or mishandle your SSN.

What information can someone get with your SSN?

We stressed the importance of your SSN because if someone knows it, they can access your:

  • Bank accounts
  • State benefits
  • Tax returns
  • Driver’s license information
  • Home address, and more

Someone who knows your SSN can commit loan fraud, tax identity theft, unemployment fraud, criminal identity theft, and other types of fraud.

What are the alternatives to providing your Social Security Number?

When you’re not legally obligated to disclose your SSN, you can give these details instead:

  • Driver’s license and DL number
  • Passport
  • Current and previous address
  • Employee ID
  • Student ID, if applicable

These are valid proofs of your identity that you can offer instead so you can protect your SSN.

What is the purpose of having a Social Security Number?

You might think that Social Security Number is used for identification only, but it has other purposes.

It allows government agencies to track your financial information. It means you need your SSN to open bank accounts in the US and file income tax returns.

Every person has a unique SSN because it works as your identifier. That’s why you should only give it to institutions authorized by law.

Should you give your SSN to whoever asks for it?

According to the e-CFR and Privacy Act of 1974, you should only provide your SSN to the DMV, tax authorities, welfare offices, and other government agencies.

Some private institutions and persons can also legally ask for your SSN, but first, you should ask them what law requires them to give it.

It’s alright to be cautious when it comes to a sensitive piece of information like SSN.

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