How private can I keep my SSN
January 29, 2013 12:01 PM   Subscribe

I hate giving out my Social Security number (other than in connection with tax reporting and where I need to have a background/credit check--where I realize it's necessary). How much do you squawk when asked for your social in other scenarios? Example inside.

Right now, I'm working with someone on estate planning / wills etc. who wants my SSN as part of my paperwork. This is strictly a fee-for-service relationship--the person is not responsible for any investments, reporting, executorship, and I have to pay to get the estate plan (in fact, I've ALREADY paid for it), so I see no reason why he needs my SSN (other than maybe internal recordkeeping). I'd really rather not share it, but I also would like to keep the relationship and I don't want to be that guy about it. I'm half inclined to invert a couple of the numbers (again this is in the context of something I've already paid for, so there is no benefit other than my privacy and peace of mind).

Is this overly cautious? I've looked at earlier questions (e.g., 1, 2). It's not a state instrumentality where you can't fight the request, but given that it's a purely contractual arrangement, the planner could, of course, refuse to deal me in the future if he thinks I'm a pain.
posted by Admiral Haddock to Law & Government (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Why not ask why they need it? And if it's not necessary for whatever your needs are, say "I prefer not to give out my SSN."

But for estate planning, I would guess it's used to help track down / get access to your accounts once you're dead.
posted by zippy at 12:03 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, just ask if it is necessary. I do (ask) all the time and no one ever gives me crap about it, even when I choose not to divulge whatever it is they're asking for (SSN, phone number, zip code, etc.).
posted by cooker girl at 12:06 PM on January 29, 2013

Best answer: They may need your social security number to satisfy the requirements under the KYC (Know Your Client) due diligence requirements of regulated entities (for example, whoever will be the executor or trustee). I used to work at a private bank and we were expected to have SSN, photocopies of drivers licences, a KYC questionnaire, etc. on file for all our clients.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:08 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Definitely do *not* give a bogus SS number. Assuming there is an actual need for it, giving a bogus number will cause trouble for your estate and others. This isn't like giving a fake phone number to be rid of a suitor.

There are potential legitimate reasons for needing the number. For example, if you are the settlor of a living trust, your SS number will be the trust's SS number. As you might imagine, tax issues are at the root of much estate planning, so it is not that unusual that your tax id number could be relevant.

If it is that big a deal for you, ask for what purpose the number is needed and what happens if you don't provide it.
posted by Tanizaki at 12:16 PM on January 29, 2013

My standard policy is to leave it off any non-tax forms I fill out. If they really need it, they call me. This has only happened once.
posted by zug at 12:23 PM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seconding the advice NOT to provide a false SSN.

Depending on how common your name is, your SS might be required to designate your "John Smith" will from 30 other "John Smith" wills in your county/city, or any number of other identification reasons.

Just because *you* see no reason they'd need it doesn't mean there isn't a reason. You went to them for their expertise/experience/training on the matter, so it's very likely there are countless bits of the process you wouldn't think of off the top of your head.

Generally if it's a legal document that's being prepared, I'd probably assume they're not asking for any nefarious purpose and just give it to them.
posted by HermitDog at 12:46 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yeah, it could be KYC, but it's definitely not relevant for any of the actual work he's doing for me. And, to the extent it's just for internal recordkeeping, really any identifier will do, and I think I will give a vigorous squawk.

To be clear, I don't think he's asking for nefarious reasons, but there's no guarantee it would be safeguarded with the level of security I maintain in my own affairs.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:03 PM on January 29, 2013

Once, whiIe applying for a credit card at a major department store chain (which has now absorbed so many department store chains, it's almost the only one) I left the SSN field blank on the application. When prompted for the number, I gave the clerk mine, but with a few digits switched. Peering into her screen, she said I'd made a mistake and read back aloud my real SSN.

Point being? "They" already have your number.
posted by Rash at 1:22 PM on January 29, 2013

I have refused to give it to my electric company and other similar type businesses. In your case where it MAY have actual good reason to give it, I would ask specifically why he needs it. If he is in estate/financial planning, he should be happy that you are skeptical about giving out your SSN.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:26 PM on January 29, 2013

Yes, do not give out a fake SSN. That way lies nothing good.

As everyone said, just don't give it. I always leave it blank and I think there's only been one time where they asked me about it (at a doctors offices where they asked for my number on the patient intake form. They said they needed it to keep track of me. I said that if they needed a ten digit patient number they could just use my phone number.).

If they're legally required to collect it, they'll tell you and they'll tell you why. Otherwise, just don't give it out.
posted by McPuppington the Third at 2:00 PM on January 29, 2013

I used to work with a guy who was some kind of federal banking lawyer when I was doing low level IT stuff. He would frequently go on these long angry rants about how asking for SSN if you aren't a federal agent is like a felony class offense but everyone does it anyway.

A few years later I decided to test this out While signing up for electricity in Puerto Rico. After waiting in like for six hours, and a series of lengthy forms, they asked for it, and I mentioned that I wasn't going to give it out. They said that was fine, I was entitled to that choice, and so they hoped I enjoyed not having electricity and wished me a good day.

This turned out to be one of a long series of lessons that year where I learned that being right is an entirely useless position because nobody cares. At all. That's how things are done and you are not going to ever change anything.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 2:03 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

If it's not directly related to legit financial stuff, I usually leave it blank. More often than not, whoever is asking never follows-up. If they do request it again, I ask them about the specifics of why they need it. Never give a fake.
posted by quince at 2:20 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your SSN is supposed to be for tax collection purposes only. But, if you want a credit history, you have to play along.

I'd ask your planner why he needs it, and if you don't like the answer, just tell him, "I'd rather not." You can still keep the relationship.

Never let the fear of "being that guy" keep you from following your gut on stuff like this.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:58 PM on January 29, 2013

I always decline unless it's a tax thing or a bank. I just say "You know, my roommate lost his wallet with his SSN in it and got his identity totally hacked, and it's left me wary about putting my social security number on documents unless it's absolutely necessary. How could we go about this in a different way?"
posted by feets at 9:46 PM on January 29, 2013

Response by poster: Update: it was a KYC thing, since the larger office he's a part of is B/D regulated. Glad to have asked though!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:45 AM on January 30, 2013

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