Social security

Who can legally ask for social security number?

Find out which entities can legally ask for Social Security Number, and how you can protect your Social Security Number.

3 min read

Although SSNs were originally used to track an individual's earnings and Social Security benefits, they are now considered a key identifier when seeking services from government agencies, employers, financial institutions, etc. However, before you disclose your SSN, you should find out who is legally allowed to ask for your SSN.

Government agencies, employers, schools, banks, businesses, and private agencies are free to ask for your Social Security Number and use it for any purpose that does not violate any federal or state law. When you are asked to provide your SSN, the requester should explain why they need it and how it will be used. In some cases, you may be allowed to use a different identifier such as your passport or state identification document.

Who can ask for your Social Security number?

A Social Security Number is a sensitive identity document, and it should only be provided to individuals or organizations that legally need it. Some of the entities that can legally ask for your SSN include:

Employers may ask for your SSN for wage or tax purposes.

Government tax or revenue agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service, state tax agencies, and local government tax/revenue agencies.

Banks and financial institutions for credit and identity verification

Government agencies for identification and benefits purposes. The agency should disclose whether it is mandatory or optional to disclose your SSN, and how the SSN will be used.

Education institutions for records and financial assistance.

Healthcare institutions for insurance and billing purposes

State licensing agencies i.e. professional, occupational, and recreational agencies.

Any business that is required to report to the IRS such as banks, investment advisors, real estate purchases, and transactions above $10,000.

Merchants, private agencies, retail stores, utility service providers, prospective employers, and prospective landlords may also ask for your SSN, but you are not obligated to give it. However, if you refuse to provide your SSN, the business is free to deny you the requested service.

Do employers ask for your Social Security number?

Some employers may require applicants to disclose their Social Security Number when filling out job applications. Employers require the SSN to conduct a background check or credit check on applicants. However, some job applicants may be hesitant to disclose their SSNs in job applications.

State and federal laws permit employers to ask applicants for their SSNs during the job application process. However, states like New York and Massachusetts require employers to put measures to protect the data they collect from job applicants. In most cases, employers will delay asking for the SSN until later in the recruitment process.

If providing your SSN is not mandatory, you can choose to withhold your SSN. However, if an SSN is mandatory, and you are not willing to provide it, you can either explain why you won't provide your SSN, leave the space blank, or provide your SSN but leave out the last digits of your SSN.

Note that your application may not be considered if you refuse to list your SSN in a job that requires you to provide your SSN.

How to protect your Social Security number

Just because you are asked to provide your SSN does not mean you must give it out. Here are ways to protect yourself from fraud and identity theft:

Ask to have your identity verified using other documents other than your SSN.

Ask what measures and safeguards are in place to protect your SSN. Does the organization encrypt data? Which employees get access to SSNs and are there safeguards to prevent misuse?

Ask the organization for the name of the law that mandates it to collect SSNs.

Ask if the SSN disclosure is optional, and any consequences of withholding your SSN.

Refuse to disclose your SSN- be aware that some organizations may refuse to provide service if you refuse to provide your SSN.

Ask questions to eliminate any doubt. Why do you need my SSN? How will my SSN be used? Will you share my SSN with other agencies, and which ones? What happens if I refuse to provide my SSN?

What to do if you think you are a victim of identity theft

If you think you are a victim of Social Security identity theft, there are several actions you can take to protect yourself:

File a police report

If you are a victim of identity theft, you should make a report at your local police department and ask for a copy of the report for your records.

File a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

Report the identity theft to the FTC at or by calling 1-877-438-4334. FTC compiles information about identity theft cases, and the information can be used by other agencies like the FBI to track down criminals.

Notify your financial institution

You should alert your bank and credit card issuer about the theft, and ask them to freeze any compromised accounts or terminate any new accounts linked to your SSN.

Place a fraud alert on your credit report

Contact the three major credit bureaus i.e. Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian, and ask them to place a fraud alert on your account. The alert notifies the lender, employer, or other institution that pulls your credit report that your identity may be compromised.

Sign up for an identity protection service

An identity protection service monitors your financial accounts for any suspicious activities and sends an alert when a new transaction is made.

Review your credit report

Regularly check your credit report to ensure there are no unauthorized accounts opened recently or existing accounts that have been modified without your authorization. Also, check for any inquiries from lenders that you haven't applied for credit with.