Use and Protection of My Social Security Number (SSN)
Providing My Social Security Number (SSN) to Other Organizations
There is no law either authorizing or prohibiting the use of Social Security Numbers by organizations other than government agencies. In increasing numbers, government agencies, schools, and businesses rely on Social Security Numbers to identify people in their computer systems. Your Social Security Number (SSN) is usually needed when opening a bank account, registering for school, on tax documents, and for payroll purposes. Banks and other financial institutions use Social Security Numbers to report interest earned on accounts to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and government agencies use Social Security Numbers in computer operations to stop fraud and abuse.
Providing your Social Security Number to organizations other than the Social Security Administration (SSA) does NOT give them access to your Social Security records. The privacy of your records is guaranteed unless 1) disclosure to another government agency is required by law or 2) the information is needed to conduct Social Security or other government health or welfare programs.
Nevertheless, you generally should not use your Social Security Number as an identification card. Keep it in a safe place and do not let anyone else handle it.
Ensuring an Accurate Social Security Record
When you work, your Social Security Number (SSN) is used to record your earnings. You can take steps to protect your Social Security record and to make sure it is accurate:
- After showing your employer your Social Security Number, check the name and Social Security Number on your pay stub and W-2 form (annual statement of earnings issued by an employer) to make sure your name and Social Security Number are correct. If you give your employer the wrong Social Security Number, your earnings may get credited to some other worker.
- Send for a Social Security earnings statement at least every three years to make sure your record is correct. Your Social Security Statement is available free of charge from the Social Security Administration by calling 1-800-772-1213.
Identity Theft: If Someone Else Is Using My Social Security Number
It is against the law to use someone else's Social Security Number (SSN), or to give false information when applying for a Social Security Number. Also, it is illegal to alter, buy, or sell Social Security cards. Anyone convicted of these crimes is subject to fines and/or imprisonment.
If you suspect that someone is using your Social Security Number, you should report it to Social Security by calling 1-800-772-1213. You should also check your earnings record by requesting your Social Security Statement online or by calling 1-800-772-1213 and asking for a "Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement." Your statement will show the earnings reported for your Social Security Number each year since 1951. If you find that too much or too little is reported for your number, notify the Social Security Administration.
The Social Security Administration cannot straighten out your credit record, and you must contact each creditor or credit agency yourself. Also, the Social Security Administration cannot fix incorrect reports made by an employer to state unemployment or welfare offices. You will need to contact the state or local agency to correct your record.
Be Aware of Social Security Offers by Businesses
Sometimes private firms offer, for a fee, to obtain a Social Security Number for a newborn child or to get a revised card for a bride showing her new name. Generally, these businesses are not illegal, but remember that both services are free when you contact the Social Security Administration directly. It is illegal for private firms to use words that seemingly represent the Social Security Administration or its emblems, or that suggest a government affiliation, in order to solicit business.
In addition, some private firms sell metal or plastic Social Security Cards, or offer them for free as an incentive for business offers. Although these cards are not illegal, only a Social Security Card issued by the Social Security Administration is the official verification of a person's Social Security Number. If you decide to use these services, however, make sure your number is correct.
If you receive something you think is illegal, turn over the entire package, including the envelope, to your local Social Security Administration office or send the material to the Social Security Administration, Office of Communications, P.O. Box 17740, Baltimore, Maryland 21235. If you wish, you also can turn over the material to local postal authorities.