Your Social Security Number (SSN) enables government agencies to identify individuals in their records and businesses to track each individual's financial information. It was originally created to track the earnings histories of U.S. workers for use in determining Social Security benefit entitlement and calculating benefit levels. Nowadays, however, it is commonly used by both government and private entities to identify an individual and report all sorts of information, including financial data and credit history.
Because of how widely used your SSN is to identify you by authentic government and financial institutions, it’s vital that you prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. If you’re not careful, you can fall victim to identity theft. This occurs when a thief steals your identifying information and uses it to conduct unauthorized transactions on your behalf. Thieves can commit all kinds of fraudulent activities once they have this information, including applying for credit, making online purchases, opening accounts, accessing your financial accounts, and much more. These acts can damage your credit status, cost you time and money, and even cause security and legal issues.
Who Needs Your SSN…And Who Doesn’t
The federal Privacy Act of 1974 requires that government agencies at the local, state, and federal level disclose to each person whether submitting your Social Security number is required, details on the use of this information, and what law or authority requires its use. Federal law requires that state Departments of Motor Vehicles, tax authorities, welfare offices, and other governmental agencies obtain your SSN as proof of your identity. The Privacy Act also stipulates that no one can deny you a government service or benefit for failing to provide your SSN unless federal law specifically requires it.
Many other businesses commonly ask for your SSN. You aren't required by law to provide your SSN to a private business unless you are engaging in certain specific financial transactions that require reporting to the government. However, many other businesses ask for your SSN for legitimate reasons, like checking your credit report or financial history. These can include
- Insurance companies
- Mortgage companies
- Credit card companies
- The three main credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian)
- Investment advisors
- Real estate brokers
While you are not required to provide your SSN to these companies, they are permitted to refuse to do business with you if you do not. Be wary of providing your SSN to any business that doesn’t need it for legitimate financial purposes. Many companies will issue you a unique customer identification number or other username upon request rather than using your SSN as a default. Doctors, dentists, and even salons commonly ask for your SSN. The Social Security Administration recommends asking why the number is needed, how it will be used, what will happen if you refuse to give it, and what law (if any) requires you to give it to them before disclosing it.
Many professionals are bound by laws that require they protect the security, confidentiality, and integrity of sensitive client or patient information, including financial information and social security information. Health care providers, for example, are required to take measures to protect confidential patient information, in any format (written or digital patient files, communication related to care, and more), under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). If you are unsure of the steps a provider is taking to protect your information, ask!
How to Protect Your SSN
Sometimes it’s impossible to prevent your personal information from being compromised (like in the case of data breaches from large companies or credit bureaus). However, many cases of identity theft can be traced back to poor internet and online security habits. Some simple tips can help keep your SSN secure and improve your chances of avoiding identity theft.
- Email it or transmit it over any messaging application
- Use any part of it as password or PIN
- Store it on your computer, phone, or in unsecured online storage applications
- Disclose it to vendors or businesses online, except in secure forms or platforms
- Disclose it unless you know there is a legitimate need
- Use appropriate encryption and security measures when transmitting it for legitimate business purposes
- Install and update a comprehensive anti-malware, spyware, and virus program
- Report any suspicious use of your SSN to the Social Security Administration using its online complaint form or telephone hotline
Contact a Professional for Your IT Security
Dymin’s professional computer techs can help you implement a comprehensive data security, protection, anti-virus, and data backup plan for both your home and business computers. We will help find and remove any potential threats to your system, strengthen any security vulnerabilities, and prevent IT issues from occurring.
If your business is responsible for safeguarding sensitive medical information, ask us about our HIPAA compliance audit service to identify areas of your IT infrastructure or procedures that could potentially be non-compliant and help you get them corrected. We also offer a HIPAA Compliance Maintenance service to ensure that once you’re compliant, you stay that way, because even though your network and procedures are compliant today does not mean that something can't change (new equipment, new employees, HIPAA policy changes) that would take you out of compliance.
Contact Dymin Systems online today, visit our repair services and computer sales showroom in Urbandale, Iowa, or call us at 515-276-7447.