Recently I decided to try and join a gym. In the application process they asked for my social security number. Never mind the fact that my FICO score is off the charts or that I could pay by cash, credit card or debit card which wouldn’t require that information. I politely explained that this information shouldn’t be needed to join a gym at which point they became aggressive, insistent and tried to bully me into giving it to them. At that point I let loose a few choice expletives and left with a big frack you as I left their business. (Though I may not have used the word frack. 😆 ) Hard selling and intimidation is not something sales people should really ever try on me. It seems big biceps don’t help you win debates as they learned.
Don’t ever join a gym that asks for your social security number or I promise you will regret that decision if you ever decide to cancel or stop the auto-renewal of contracts. These contracts are notoriously bad and there are many horror stories with bills years after cancellation and ruined credit. Find a gym that doesn’t require personal details and there are many around.
I am old enough to remember my first driver’s license number was my social security number. Thankfully they figured out this was both idiotic and dangerous and changed that. If you visit a new doctor or even a dentist they will ask for your social security number as well. I asked my dentists why they needed that and they didn’t know. The real reason is if you die it will be needed on a death certificate. Even cellphone contracts, cable TV, and dozens of other government and private companies ask you for it every day and many of you don’t blink an eye before you hand it over – because that is what you have always done. It has become a bad habit you need to break.
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Identity Theft is a Real Concern
Even if your computer is locked up tighter than Fort Knox you are still vulnerable to identity theft. That’s because most hacking cases involve the websites or stores you shop at that may have all your information. If they hack a website that store your data and the website is hacked they can easily get your name, address, and credit card information. If thieves also get your social security number they can do nearly anything they want.
Only recently the IRS itself was hacked and the accounts of 100,000 were exposed. Your social security number is a very valuable bit of information. With a social security number an identity theft can cause you a world of hurt by opening up credit cards, buying cars or even houses. Trying to repair your credit history after an identity theft has ruined your credit can take many years and a lot of time and money and even then it is doubtful you will ever fully clear your name.
Just Say No to Giving Out Your Social Security Number
I realize sometimes it is required. For credit applications, cash transactions over $10,000, federal benefits, military paperwork, and a few others there is no getting around handing it out. The local motor vehicle department, thanks to the USA PATRIOT Act, has the legal right to ask for Social Security numbers, too now. But there are a lot of places you can and even should refuse to hand it over willy nilly.
Anyone emailing or calling – Never give it to anyone that asks for it by email or by phone! I don’t care who they claim to be, don’t do it. If they claim to be from your bank or the IRS, hang up the phone and look up the number for those institutions and call them directly. If you initiate the call then you can be sure they really are the bank, but if they call you from the blue they could be anyone.
Retailers You shouldn’t need to give this information to any retailer. This is also a common way it can get stolen by writing it on checks. Consider paying with your Debit card instead if you often have to give your social security number on checks.
If a business asks for your social security number and you are not sure why they need it, then simply ask them directly. Ask them this “Is there a law or requirement that I must provide it to you, and can you tell me what it is?” You can also ask the person requesting your Social Security number what will happen if you don’t disclose it. Often companies will just use it for your unique identifier or to track you down if you owe them money later.
A great answer you can give companies is “In order for me to become your customer, I really need you to find an alternative recordkeeping method because I know giving out my Social Security number places me at great risk.”
We Need a New Alternative to Social Security Numbers
The reality is we need to think outside the box. We need an added layer of security because right now identity theft is just too easy if they have it. Your social security number should only ever be used by the government and no private company should ever require you to use it. I am not suggesting we abandon our social security numbers, but we need to make them more secure by adding an additional identifier. There are a lot of smart people in Silicon Valley and other places that could likely come up with some great alternatives and ideas.
I like the idea of an alternative identifier that has no risk to your credit if it is widely shared. Employer Identification Number or EIN (also known as Federal Employer Identification Number or FEIN) is the corporate equivalent to a Social Security number, although it is issued to anyone, including individuals, who have to pay withholding taxes on employees. Perhaps something like this could also be issued to all Americans and be used for private entities and reserve the social security for government business. We could create a new type of number identifier that can be shared openly without fear of impacting your credit by thieves because it would be similar to a permanent telephone number.
I also thought about a temporary social security number that expires after one use. For example if you call some companies they will text or email you a short five digit code that can only be used once. Perhaps they can figure out a way to do this with social security numbers which would make the jobs of identity thieves much harder if a social security number requires double verification by you anytime someone else wants to use your number to open up a new credit card or buy a car for example.
What are your thoughts? Do you feel comfortable handing out your social security number to all the people that asks for it? Do you have some suggestions for improving security? Let us know in the comments or on Facebook.