Oct 14th, 2011 | By | Category: Social Security & Medicare

How Social Security Numbers are Used

Seniors, we need to know how our Social Security numbers are used by businesses/offices/organizations that request them.  The SSN began as a simple way to identify your account for bookkeeping purposes back in the 1930s.  However, they now are a universal means for knowing and identifying who you are, because every SSN is unique.

A lot of requests are made these days for Social Security numbers, and some of them are necessary to do business with the requesting institution. For example, my bank needs my SSN for tax reporting purposes.  My primary care physician, hospitals and medical clinics need my SSN to be able to communicate with Medicare and my supplemental insurance plan about my benefits.  The IRS needs it on my tax return to identify my federal tax account.

This list is available on the Social Security website online. It includes those businesses and agencies that can legally require us to provide our Social Security number:

  • Internal Revenue Service for tax returns and federal loans;
  • Employers for wage and tax reporting purposes;
  • Employers enrolled in E-Verify;
  • States for the school lunch program;
  • Banks for monetary transactions;
  • Veterans Administration as a hospital admission number;
  • Department of Labor for workers’ compensation;
  • Department of Education for Student Loans;
  • States to administer any tax, general public assistance, motor vehicle or drivers license law within its jurisdiction;
  • States for child support enforcement;
  • States for commercial drivers’ licenses;
  • States for Food Stamps;
  • States for Medicaid;
  • States for Unemployment Compensation;
  • States for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families; or
  • U.S. Treasury for U.S. Savings Bonds

When to Say ‘No’ for Your SSN

Beyond the list above, we senior citizens really need to question anyone or any organization asking for our Social Security Number.  The first NO for a request for your Social Security Number is if someone asks you for it on the telephone.  Your answer must be NO.  However, if someone already has your SSN, and wants to verify it with the last four digits, that’s probably a legitimate request.  If the four digits are incorrect, do not–under any circumstances–provide your correct SSN.  Hang up if you are on the phone, or walk away.

The second NO situation is one of those common sense things.  If a delivery person, or a store clerk or a door-to-door salesperson asks for your SSN, your answer must be NO. It’s just common sense that those people do not need your SSN to do business with you.  More importantly, if your common sense is impaired by dementia (ask trusted family and friends about this, and listen to them!), be sure you are accompanied by someone you know well when you shop.

If you live alone, put your Social Security card in an envelope on which you and your trusted family member have written the message to call him/her if someone asks for the number. Taking the time to make a call and ask if you should release your SSN may be saving a lot of heartache.

Most important probably is listening to your intuition.  If it feels to you like you shouldn’t give your SSN to someone, don’t! If it is a legitimate request, you can always go back and re-initiate whatever it was you were trying to accomplish.  In the meantime, you have verified the legitimacy of the need for your Social Security number, and you have taken the necessary steps to make sure your identity isn’t compromised.


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