Guard Your Social Security Number

There are only five instances when you must legally share your social security number. Otherwise, keep your number private and do not give it to any other company, organization, or individual. 

Your social security number should be one of your most closely guarded secrets. That's because if it falls into the wrong hands, you could become victim of identity theft. However, there are a few situations where you are legally required to give out your number to conduct business with others.

1. Applying for Government-Issued ID

Anytime you apply for a federal or state government-issued ID, you must provide your number, so the agency can verify who you are. For example, when you apply for a U.S. passport, the State Department requires a copy of your social security number on your passport application. When you apply for a U.S. “Real ID” driver's license, you must give your social security number to verify your true identity.

2. Employment

Many employers conduct e-verify and background checks when screening job applicants. E-verify is used to ensure that you are legally eligible to work in the U.S. Background checks are conducted to verify education and employment experience, as well as search for potential criminal records.

social security number

You must provide your social security number when it's required for e-verify and background checks. Also, when you get a job, you must provide your new employer with your social security number so that they can properly report your income to the IRS.

3. Applying for Financial Products

Financial service companies are required to verify the identity of everyone who opens a new account with them. For example, when you open a bank account, apply for a loan, or take out a credit card, you must furnish your social security number so the financial institution can verify your identity.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security requires financial service companies to verify the identity of their customers to crack down on fraud and identity theft.

4. Utility Providers

Utility companies are legally allowed to ask for your social security number for a few reasons. First, they want to verify your identity to ensure that you aren't posing as another customer. Secondly, many people move owing money to a utility company that they never pay. Therefore, utility providers can verify that you don't owe them money before they turn on your utilities.

5. Credit Checks

If a legal entity has the legal right to conduct a credit check on you, then you must provide your social security number. For example, if you want to rent an apartment or house, the landlord will (likely) want to check your credit to determine whether you are a risk.

Certain insurance companies conduct credit checks to determine your premiums. Credit checks are even being used by many employers to screen job applicants. Therefore, don't be surprised if someone wants to check your credit history. Just make sure that they have the legal right to do so.


In short, if you apply for a new passport or U.S. “Real ID,” you must provide your social security number. You are also required to provide it to an employer during any background checks, as well as if you get hired (so the employer can report your earnings to the IRS).

Financial institutions are legally required to collect your number to fight fraud and identity theft. Utility providers have the right to ask for it when you request to have utilities turned on.

Remember, when an entity has the legal right to conduct a credit check on you, then you must provide your social security number. Yet, if the business or organization does not fall into one of the legally required categories described above, decline the request for your number. This includes not sharing it with medical offices and other businesses. 


This article was written by Evan Crosby, a writer with expertise in business, finance and technology.

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