Prospective Employer Asking for Social Security # - my rights & protections
September 12, 2011 11:57 AM   Subscribe

I've been approached by a firm about a position they need to fill. Staff is enthusiastic and after several conversations, I received an e-mail from their HR head asking to fill out an application form. Did it over the weekend but now she's asking me for my social security # to verify my education credentials. Trying to get out of it, but they're acting like there's no other option.

So yeah, I am being courted hot and heavy for a firm and for the most part it's going well. But they have yet to make any kind of official offer, verbally or in writing. Their HR head wants my SS# for a service they use to verify my graduating from undergrad and grad school. She's refused my offer to pay for/send her official copies of my transcripts.

I'm perfectly fine with giving my SS# for stuff like I-9 verification, but that's when you're an actual employee. In this situation, they've made no offer and I've had enough prospects fall through before (and enough bad situations with attempted stolen credit cards) that I feel like they're overstepping their bounds asking for this information.We're in different states (I'm in CA & this person is in FL), but I want to make sure that if I do give her my #, it's protected and I've made them aware of their responsibilities. Especially because we have specific laws here.

Thoughts? Suggestions? I definitely feel like your SS# is not for the asking unless it's tax/financial/verification business, which verifying my degrees doesn't really fall under.
posted by gov_moonbeam to Work & Money (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Have you explained that you're a bit cautious with that because you've HAD bad experiences with identity theft in the past? I've sometimes noticed that if you explain why you are being so protective of something/reacting in a certain way, it does help if someone's being a bit stubborn.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:02 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

A bit unclear on this one, have you been interviewed to the point where they're checking references prior to an offer?
posted by bitdamaged at 12:03 PM on September 12, 2011

I understand your hesitation, but it is one of HR's primary responsibilities to guard against SS# abuse. If they're courting you, you have some leeway, but I think you risk showing yourself as capricious or difficult to work with if you don't cooperate.
posted by OrangeDrink at 12:07 PM on September 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

If they're a legit firm, then I'd go ahead and do it. I think in principle you're correct, but in reality, it's probably not worth it to torpedo a potential job offer. You already have a fraud alert in place, right?

Of course, you are the only one who can make this determination based on how much you would want the job and other factors.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:08 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

In a similar situation (actually for the I-9 verification, where I was informed a passport was not valid proof of identity OR right to work and that I had to provide an SSN, which I did not), I asked to speak with their legal department to clear it up when it became clear that HR had no freaking clue what it was talking about and was not going to listen to me. It took a little longer, but I did get it cleared up with legal and it resulted in them doing some retraining of HR since, in fact, HR had no idea how to properly do an I-9.

This may or may not be the sort of attitude you want to take, though, depending on how the hiring process works. In my case, the person hiring me was very insulated from HR and vice versa, so I wasn't particularly concerned. I also took a fairly aggressive stance; you could be more, "I'm concerned about identity theft and we have specific laws in California, so I'd like to clarify with legal ...."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:09 PM on September 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you're sure that this business is legit, then I don't think it's too unusual to use SSN for a background check. But these phrases:

I've been approached by a firm ... I'm in CA & this person is in FL

set off my scam alarm. Be very cautious.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 12:09 PM on September 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

It seems that there are background checking firms that will do what this employer is looking for and that use a SSN to do it. So if an employer is going to do those checks prior to an offer then they have to ask for the SSN. So while you feel it shouldn't be part of the process (pre-offer), for this employer it is.

That said, you are correct, there are of course risks with giving out your SSN and you need to balance those risks with the potential reward. If this is a genuine company and there is a prospect of a good job offer perhaps it's worth the relatively small risk.
posted by Long Way To Go at 12:10 PM on September 12, 2011

Best answer: This is a matter of how reasonable they're willing to be. Since they are trying to recruit you, it may make sense to respond that you can't divulge personal information without knowing more about the position and speaking with them in person to have a better idea about potential fit. Really, if they don't even trust you to represent yourself truthfully on an application, is it really an organization you want to work for? On the other hand, if this offer seems lucrative or you have other overwhelming reasons to pursue this opportunity, you may want to reconsider your objections.

For the record, lackadaisical attitudes toward protecting sensitive personal data are very common. It's most likely a problem of perspective: these people want you to do something for them to make it easier to do their jobs, so thinking about potential risks to you is the farthest thing from their minds. The federal government holds regular workshops and invited talks in federal buildings, which require passes for visitors. It is usually requested that potential attendees RSVP by sending their names, birthdates, and social security numbers to a Hotmail or Yahoo address, and I'm sure many do.
posted by Nomyte at 12:10 PM on September 12, 2011

Last time a buddy of mine responded to a Florida "recruiter" who wanted his personal info, they tried to clean his bank account out. So, yes, be careful.
posted by jayder at 12:23 PM on September 12, 2011 [4 favorites]

And why would the social be used to verify educational credentials? My schools verify by name, not social.
posted by jayder at 12:25 PM on September 12, 2011 [7 favorites]

Are you sure the firm is legitimate? It's interesting that they contacted you, then they sent you the application, now they are demanding your social security number. Have you actually been interviewed for the job and spoken to more than one person there? As Jayder seems to be implying, could this whole thing be an elaborate phishing expedition?
posted by alms at 12:33 PM on September 12, 2011

Who has been "hot and heavy" for you so far in the company? Go to them, explain the situation and if they really want you they will run interference with HR.

Alternately, explain the root of your concerns to the HR dept, and tell them your schools have been instructed to to divulge information based on your SSN due to trouble in the past. Do this after you call your schools and instruct them not to divulge information based on your SSN.
posted by mikepop at 12:35 PM on September 12, 2011

If this is the last step before making an offer, get an offer contingent on satisfactory verification of your degrees (I feel like they want to do a heck of a lot broader background check and just aren't saying so). If they need to do more interviewing or whatever before getting to that pint, then let's do that and when it's time they can make a contingent offer.

This gives me some red flags though - if you know they company well then you can verify they're legit (like it's Apple or something and you know that this head of HR really works there, at the actual company). But you just shouldn't need an SSN to verify degrees, and why refuse the offer for official transcripts? If they're lying about a broader background check, which gut says they are, it gives me a bad feeling.
posted by mrs. taters at 12:36 PM on September 12, 2011

i've never heard of having my educational credentials verified, let alone by social security number. this sounds shady to me.
posted by violetk at 12:36 PM on September 12, 2011

I had to verify my educational credentials last year for my employer.

The process I had to go through was to call my Alma Mater, and explain that my employer needed proof that I indeed graduated with a BA. They got the name and contact info of the employer, and took it from there. My employer didn't need to contact them directly, nor did my school need my SSN. DOB and name was sufficient.
posted by spinifex23 at 12:36 PM on September 12, 2011

Best answer: Recruiter responding here ...

The request for SS# to verify education is not uncommon. It can be necessary to sort out potential duplication. What is unusual is the sequence of the request.

Many employers will extend an offer "contingent upon successful completion of a background check", which can include things like education, credit, references, etc. Such an arrangement demonstrates good faith on the part of the employer, and affords the candidate enough confidence to alert a current boss/supervisor to expect a reference call. In 16 years of doing what I do, I have seen only ONE offer rescinded as a result of findings during the background check.

Moreover, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires the employer to make a written request for information (i.e., SS#) necessary to complete a background check. Such a request will typically include boilerplate about your rights to request/receive any negative reports.

If your internal alarm system is going off (and it appears that it is), you could request that you be extended such a contingent offer.
posted by John Borrowman at 12:39 PM on September 12, 2011 [7 favorites]

I had to give my social for a background check last year, but this was AFTER the offer had been made.

I have a very strong sketchy feeling about this.
posted by downing street memo at 12:40 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ask your undergrad and grad school's registrars if they need SSNs to confirm degrees for employers. That'll settle it.

Most schools, as previously mentioned, don't ask for it anymore.
posted by Mercaptan at 12:41 PM on September 12, 2011

As mentioned above, since they contacted you, I would be very careful about giving your SSN.
posted by Mr. Papagiorgio at 1:09 PM on September 12, 2011

The large university I worked for has not used SSN# for student ID for many years. It is, in fact, expressly forbidden by the SS agency to use the SSN for identification like that.

Assuming your alma mater uses some other id number, send that to these folks and explain why.
posted by qurlyjoe at 5:41 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Haven't been able to log in since the hasty question, but thanks for the responses. I talked with the HR Department this afternoon and reading your suggestions/profesional input helped a lot.

Fortunately it's not a shady recruiter, but a pretty old and well established multinational corporation. The HR Department seems to be in Florida because I'm being recruited by the Americas Division and they're based there to work with both US and Latin American offices. I ended up talking to the recruiter on the phone and asked probably pushed back more on this request than what she's accustomed to. As Nomyte states, there can be some pretty lackadasical attitudes towards asking people for their personal information. Like I could send them my transcripts but this is probably less overhead time/effort (but at my expense). I did make her squirm a little bit and get defensive by requesting:

1) Verbal/e-mail confirmation that I have an offer which is contingent on my references and credentials checking out as okay.
2) The specific service they go through for verifying my degrees and a link to that organization, including their privacy/security policy.
3) A copy of the information she requested on me via this service.
4) Verbal agreement that she was not going to write down or keep any record of my SS# for this transaction.

I actually sat on the phone while she looked me up on this site and then sent me a copy. The funny part is that I am currently working on a project related to employment law. So while I'm not 100% versed on the ins and outs of privacy in regards to employment law, I am more aware (and obstinate) than probably most of the candidates who give the information out to her without hesitation. John Borrowman - thank you for your comments, especially about FCRA. That is GOLD and I will be researching more and pretty specifically telling her about it when I get the offer. Although I did mostly get a lot of comments about how everybody else has done it, their lawyers vetted it - I resisted the urge to point out that lawyers vet to make a company is protected, not job applicants.

Anyways, I don't think pushing back will have a negative impact on my application. And I'm considering the classic Strongly Worded Letter about privacy rights and the specific information in FCRA which apply to this situation. We'll see - if they decide to not offer, then I'd definitely not have anything to lose by putting it in writing.
posted by gov_moonbeam at 8:48 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think that your final update here is a bit "glass half-empty"! Once you're working for them I would simply suggest that they may be unaware of the extent of scamming out there and they might make potential future employees as uncomfortable as you (and several posters on here) have clearly been. I was unaware of the extent of this but I've been a Mefite for a long time and if about haslf of the answers on here say it wigs them out, I would listen. I don;t feel your future employer understands how quickly these scams boom so you're doing them a service raising their awareness of them.

It would therefore be useful to alert HR and to make them concious of this as they won't want to put off new applicants. Glass half full.
posted by Wilder at 2:28 AM on September 13, 2011

A thought for your letter: schools don't necessarily have students' Social Security numbers on file (my most recent college never had mine), so it might be useless for the employer to have it, anyway.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:11 AM on September 14, 2011

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