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Hands off! This is mine and mine alone!

A quick apology to all my overseas friends: This blog post doesn’t pertain to you, and there are a lot of you now. But it’s important enough that I had to write it.

I have a new client that wants me to hold $1 million worth of general liability insurance. Okay, so I call my insurance broker and ask her to hook me up. She comes back with questions: Who are your other clients? How much do you make per year? Where is your office? I give her the details, and she hangs up. Then she calls me back with a final question: What’s your Social Security number? I tell her flat out that I don’t give anyone except the government that information. She hems and haws, but then she says she’ll try and create the policy without it.

She ends up not being able to write the policy, but it wasn’t because of my lack of Social Security number. My house is too close to the water, and insurance companies are babies about the whole hurricane path thing. Since I still needed the policy, I contacted a second agent who was able to get me the policy I was looking for. Without my Social Security number, I might add! In fact, he didn’t even ask for it at all.

As a journalist who covers personal finance I have written about this topic before, (check out this story that appeared on Creditcards.com, FoxBusiness, and Yahoo! Finance) but it’s worth saying again. And again and again: Your Social Security number should be given out on a need-to-know basis.

Your employer needs it to report your income. The state and federal governments need to know it for tax purposes. And anyone who provides you with credit such as a credit card company or loan service needs it to check your credit score. But that’s really it. Doctors, dentists, insurance agents, your child’s school, your gym, your optician, a college or university — NONE of these people have the legal right to require you to disclose your Social Security number. The only exception is education-related. If you or your child receive a federally-funded program like free lunch or you get federal loans or grants the school will need a Social Security number to complete the transaction.

So what’s going on? Why do so many people want your Social Security number? Companies like to have it because it’s unique to you. Most want to use it as a personal identification number, which is a stupid, dangerous practice. So, repeat after me: No, I don’t give anyone my Social Security number. That’s what you need to say if someone asks you. If you’re filling out a form, just skip over the line. If questioned, say a) they are not allowed to ask for it and b) ask why they want it. Most people will tell you they don’t know why; it’s just the way things are done around there. (FAIL!) And if they tell you they can’t treat/serve/help you without your disclosure? Turn around and leave. Then you’ll see how quickly that “required” piece of information becomes a non-issue.

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