Protecting your Social Security number: Who really needs it

HOUSTON – Identity theft is on the rise. There were more than 15 million cases reported in 2016; and protecting nine little numbers assigned to you can save you and your wallet from a lot of pain. There are instances where you should give it out; but in most scenarios you should just say no. 

It started as a way to track income to determine Social Security benefits in retirement, but today your Social Security number is tied to your identity. You need it to work, to file your taxes, and even to apply for a credit card. 

Here are the places you don't need to share your number:

  • Doctor's offices: Your doctor may ask for it on patient forms for billing purposes, but it is not a requirement. Your insurance company bills you by your policy number, so your doctor does not need your Social Security number. 
  • School: All children in the US are entitled to attend public school. If proof of identity is required, a birth certificate or passport will do. 
  • Applying for a job
  • Purchasing items at a store
  • Purchasing travel

You do need to share your Social Security number in these situations: 

  • When applying for state and federal benefits
  • Applying for a driver's license 

If you are in a situation where you are not sure whether you should provide the information, try leaving the line on the form blank. If office staff presses you for it, ask how and why they are using it.