Who's Got Your Number?

Businesses request Social Security data that Americans don't want to share.

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How many times have you given out your Social Security number in the past year? You've probably shared it with your employer, bank, health insurer, and landlord or mortgage agent. Even employees at your local gym and utility company sometimes ask you to hand over your number. Nearly 90 percent of Americans have been asked to divulge their full or partial Social Security number in the past year, often to businesses with no clear need for that information, according to a Consumers Union telephone poll.

Americans have been asked to share their Social Security numbers with financial institutions and retailers issuing credit (60 percent), healthcare providers (49 percent), cable TV or cellphone carriers (26 percent), utilities (17 percent), and retailers (16 percent). Many of these companies have no obvious need to collect Social Security numbers.

The poll found that 78 percent of consumers preferred not to provide their numbers but were concerned about the consequences of refusing. But there's a great reason to refuse: identity theft. "Americans are clearly concerned that the widespread use of Social Security numbers puts them at risk of fraud," says Jeannine Kenney, a senior policy analyst at Consumers Union. Some 91 percent agreed that they were more vulnerable to identity theft when a business had their number, Consumers Union found, and 89 percent wanted companies to stop using Social Security numbers to identify customers.

Here's a useful rundown of who does and does not require your Social Security number and a guide on how to fix it if you think someone else is using your number.

Tell us, has anyone asked for your Social Security number that you felt uncomfortable giving it to?

social security
Social Security numbers
identity theft