Your social security number (“SSN”) is the most frequently used personal identifier and record keeping number in America. Because of that, it is also highly sought after by identity thieves looking to steal from your existing bank and credit card accounts or to establish new credit in your name. Consumers are constantly being asked to provide their SSN when cashing checks, opening new accounts, and for other purposes. Here is some basic information on who can require your SSN.
Who can require my SSN?
Many people assume that they are required to give their SSN whenever and by whoever asked. That is not true. Here is who may require your SSN:
- Government tax and welfare agencies, including the IRS, other federal agencies (for health benefits and other entitlements), state/local tax or revenue agencies;
- State professional/occupational/recreational licensing agencies;
- Other governmental agencies -- under federal law, they must tell you why your SSN is needed, whether giving your SSN is mandatory or voluntary, and how your SSN is to be used;
- Employer – You employer can require it for wage/tax purposes, but NOT from a job applicant;
- Banks and securities brokerages -- under the USA Patriot Act, 31 U.S.C. § 5318, financial institutions are required to establish minimum standards for properly identifying their customers opening new accounts (include checking, savings, loans, safe deposit boxes, and/or investments). Under federal regulations adopted in May 2003, banks, savings associations, credit unions, securities broker-dealers, futures commissions merchants, and mutual funds were required to have Customer Identification Programs (“CIPs”) in place by October 1, 2003. Information required to identify customers under a CIP includes name, date of birth, address, and a social security or federal tax identification number; and
- State motor vehicle departments – the may collect your SSN but Colorado law prohibits the recording of your SSN on your drivers license or state identification card.
Requests by businesses
Federal law does not prohibit a merchant or other business from requesting your SSN. However, there is no state or federal law that requires you to provide your SSN to any entity not authorized by law to require it. Businesses, private agencies, etc. are free to request your SSN and use it for any purpose that does not violate state or federal law.
For example, retail stores, prospective landlords, prospective employers, utility companies, and other service providers often ask you your SSN, but they do not need to and you are not required to give it. They can do a credit check or ID their customers by alternative means. Remember that you are under no obligation to provide your SSN to any merchant or other business. However, that merchant or other business is free to decline your business if you refuse to disclose your SSN. Consider asking these questions:
- Am I required by some law to provide my SSN?
- Why do they need my SSN?
- How will they use my SSN?
- Will they share my SSN with other businesses or agencies?
- What happens if I refuse to give them my SSN?
- Are there alternative means of identification they will accept?
Important Colorado laws relating to your SSN
In an effort to address identity theft, and to protect the open dissemination of your SSN, the Colorado General Assembly has adopted several laws in the past few years, including:
- Merchants are prohibited from recording your SSN or credit card number when either or both are requested to verify a check. The merchant may look at your SSN or credit card number, but he may not record those numbers on the check or anywhere else. See C.R.S., § 4-3-506.
- The Colorado Secretary of State is required to remove SSN’s from all publicly accessible records of all financing statements in her custody that were filed between April 6, 1989 and July 1, 2001. See C.R.S. § 4-9-531.
- Prior to January 1, 2006, you may request your insurance company to reissue an insurance identification card or proof of insurance card that does not display your SSN. Beginning January 1, 2006, upon issuance or renewal of an insurance policy, no insurance company doing business in Colorado may issue any insurance identification card or proof of insurance card that displays your SSN. See C.R.S. § 10-3-129.
- No post-secondary educational institution in Colorado my issue a student identification number that includes all or part of a student’s SSN. See C.R.S. § 23-5-127.
- No public entity shall issue a license, permit, pass, or certificate that contains the applicant’s social security number, unless the issuing authority determines inclusion of the social security number is necessary to further the purpose of the license, pass, or certificate or inclusion is required by federal or state law. See C.R.S. § 24-72.3-102.
- No public entity shall request a person's social security number over the phone, Internet, or via mail unless the public entity determines receiving the social security number is required by federal law or is essential to the provision of services by the public entity. See C.R.S. § 24-72.3-102.
The Colorado Secretary of State may, upon written request (and subject to a showing of good cause and reasonable verification of the identity of the requestor), remove personal identifying information from publicly accessible documents and other records maintained by the Secretary of State, where such information is not required by law to be included in such documents or records. See C.R.S. § 4-9-531.
Effective January 1, 2007, Colorado consumers will have greater protections regarding the use of their Social Security Numbers. On March 31, 2006, Governor Owens signed into law House Bill 06-1156, amending the Colorado Consumer Protection Act and providing that a person or entity may not do the following:
- Publicly post or display in any manner an individual’s SSN
- Print an individual’s SSN on any card required for the individual to access products or services provided by the person or entity
- Require an individual to transmit his or her SSN over the Internet, unless the connection is secure or the SSN is encrypted
- Require an individual to use his or her SSN to access an Internet web site, unless a password or unique personal identification number or other authentication device is also required
- Print an individual’s SSN on any materials that are mailed to the individual, unless state or federal law requires permits or authorizes the SSN to be mailed. NOTE: SSN’s may be included in applications and forms sent by mail, including documents sent as part of an application or enrollment process, or to establish, amend, or terminate an account, contract, or policy, or to confirm the accuracy of the SSN. However, a SSN permitted to be mailed MAY NOT be printed, in whole or in part, on a postcard or other mailer not requiring an envelope or visible on the envelope or without the envelope having been opened.