Can You Refuse to Give Out Your Social Security Number?

Yes, You Can, But...

Social Security Locked Up
SSA Advises Leave Your Social Security Card at Home. Daniel Grill/Getty Images

Can you refuse to give your Social Security number to people who say they need it in order to perform some service you have requested?

With Social Security numbers being one of the “holy grail” keys of identity theft, it is natural and wise to be suspicious of anybody who says they need yours. However, the Social Security Administration (SSA) advises that while you always have the right to refuse to disclose your Social Security number, the requester may also have the right to refuse to provide its services unless you do so.

According to the SSA, businesses, banks, schools and public or private agencies are free to request Social Security numbers as long as they use it for purposes that do not violate any federal or state law. In such cases, refusal to provide a Social Security number can also be grounds for refusal of services.

Ask About Alternative ID Numbers

With incidents of Social Security number-related identity theft increasing, some businesses and agencies have started issuing different, non-Social Security identification numbers if requested by customers.

To be safe, especially when dealing with a business, bank, etc. with which you are not familiar, always ask if an alternative number can be issued before giving them your Social Security number.

Protect Yourself From ID Theft at All Times

As it has for many years, the Social Security Administration recommends that you memorize your Social Security number and never actually carry your Social Security card with you.

In fact, says the SSA, carrying your Social Security card only increases the chances that it could be lost or stolen, thus greatly increasing your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft.

As the SSA advises, you rarely need to actually show anybody your Social Security card. In fact, your card is not even needed when you apply for Social Security benefits or when you get help at your local Social Security office.

“Do not carry your card with you. Keep it in a safe place with your other important papers,” advises the Social Security Administration.

While lost or stolen Social Security cards can be replaced, the SSA advises it is not really necessary. It is far more important that you simply know your Social Security number than it is to actually carry your card with you.

What About Medicare Cards?

Yes, for now at least, Medicare cards also have Social Security numbers printed on them, and “Carry your card with you when you are away from home…” is printed on the back.

But that will be ending thanks to the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, part of which mandates that Social Security numbers may no longer be printed on Medicare cards.

The act, signed into law by President Obama on April 16, 2015, gives the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services up to four years to begin issuing Medicare cards with new beneficiary identifiers that are NOT Social Security numbers. The law also gives the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services up to four years to new cards to current Medicare beneficiaries.

Until then, both the SSA and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) recommend that in most cases, actually having the Medicare card is not necessary in order to get medical services.

“Don’t carry your Medicare card. But if you don’t feel comfortable without it, make a copy of the original card and blackout all but the last four digits of the Social Security number and carry the copy instead,” advises the AARP.

[ How to Replace a Lost Medicare Card