smart spending

4 tips to protect your Social Security number

Know who doesn't need your number
Know who doesn't need your number © piotr_pabijan/Shutterstock.com

You'll find a blank space to fill in your Social Security number on many forms and applications.

That's because it's a number unique to you and therefore an especially easy way to identify you.

Schifferle and Susan Grant, director of consumer protection at the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America, say the following businesses commonly ask for Social Security numbers -- especially if they run credit reports -- but don't have to have them.

  • Schools.
  • Sports leagues/clubs.
  • Utilities/cellphone companies.
  • Landlords/property managers.
  • Hospitals/medical offices.
  • Insurers.

Why do these businesses want your Social? Most landlords, for example, consider the numbers necessary for doing credit checks, which provide a treasure trove of information about prospective tenants, says Rebekah Near, CEO of Orca Information, a company in Anacortes, Wash., that handles employment and tenant screening nationwide. Property owners can learn whether prospective tenants are financially responsible and if they've ever been evicted or arrested.

"People don't see why it's absolutely necessary in every case," says Near, also a regional official with the National Association of Residential Property Managers. "But people lie."

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