Anyone has the right to ask for your social security number. In fact, today, it seems that almost everyone wants your social security number - schools, clothing stores, phone companies, credit card companies, utilities, health clubs and insurance companies, just to name a few.

Why Do They Want My Social Security Number?

Companies use your social security number to get your credit rating and determine whether you pay your bills. Your social security number also allows the company to keep track of you if you try to skip town without paying your bills.

However, your Social Security number is also valuable to companies that develop marketing lists to sell to other companies. A marketing list that contains customers' social security numbers is more valuable, and therefore more expensive, than one without.

Do I Have to Give Them My Social Security Number?

A customer has the right to refuse to give out his or her social security number. There are very few exceptions to this rule, and generally only the following entities have the right to demand that you provide your social security number:

  • Employers
  • Banks, brokerages, or other companies handling transactions that involve taxes
  • Tax departments
  • Motor vehicle departments
  • Welfare departments

Why Should I Safeguard My Social Security Number?

By publicizing your social security number, you risk becoming a victim of identity theft. Often, all a thief needs to apply for credit under your name is a valid social security number. Once identity thieves steal your identity they have free reign to commit a number of crimes at your expense, including but not limited to:

  • Opening new accounts under your name
  • Going on spending sprees
  • Establishing phone or other services in your name
  • Draining bank accounts

But What If They Refuse to Do Business with Me?

A company can refuse to do business with you if you fail to provide your social security number. However, considering the fact that victims of identity theft often spend years and thousands of dollars clearing their credit record, you may want to think twice about giving up your social security number, and you mat want to seek those services or products elsewhere from a company that will not demand your social security number.

What Should I Do If I Am a Victim of Identity Theft?

Victims of identity theft should take several steps:

  • Contact one of the three major credit bureaus and alert them to your situation
  • Immediately close all accounts
  • File a police report
  • Contact the Federal Trade Commission

Should I Contact a Lawyer?

An experienced attorney can help you to filter through the process of identity theft. If you have lost a significant amount of money a estate lawyer may be able to help you work with credit agencies to resolve the problem, particularly if you feel your social security number has been compromised.