What with the increase in identity theft and the decrease in our ability to keep our personal lives private (particularly since the September 11 terrorists attacks), it doesn’t surprise me that I’m getting more questions like this from concerned truckers:
Question: Do I have to show my Social Security card at the terminal’s guard shack if someone asks to see it for identification purposes? This is happening to me more often these days, and I’m pretty uneasy about sharing my number with just any Joe Blow who wears a security badge. Isn’t it illegal for him to ask me for my Social Security number? Don’t I have the right to privacy or did that disappear with September 11, 2001? This is still a free country, isn’t it?
Answer: Because the crime of identity theft is so prevalent these days, it’s reasonable (and smart) to want to keep your Social Security number private; however, as you know, attempting to do so can cause you problems in some situations.
Do you have to show your SSN to the security guard? The short answer is … no, you don’t have to show it to him … but, on the other hand, he doesn’t have to let you in if you don’t.
Question: Is it illegal for someone to ask for your SSN?
Answer: The answer is no, but there are some restrictions to consider. If the request comes from a government agency, they must provide a Privacy Act Disclosure Notice that explains your rights regarding their request. Basically, the disclosure states whether or not you are required to provide your SSN, how it will be used, and what happens if you refuse to provide your number.
The Internal Revenue Service requires your SSN on tax returns, and employers require it for wage and tax reporting. The Department of Veterans Affairs uses it as a hospital admission number, and the Department of Labor wants it for workers’ compensation. Applying for a student loan? The Department of Education will require your number. Individual states want your SSN for numerous reasons, such as child support enforcement, food stamps, Medicaid, the school lunch program and unemployment compensation. They also require it when you apply for a commercial driver’s license, although most states don’t force you to display it on your actual license.
If the request comes from a private company, there’s no law that requires them to provide a disclosure notice. Consumers are asked for their SSNs for anything from renting a video, to trying to get utilities hooked up in their homes. Any private company can ask for your number, you can choose to provide it or not, and they can choose to accommodate you or not.
Yes, you have the right to privacy, and yes, it’s still a free country … sort of, depending upon how you view the situation. You can choose, but there are consequences for the choices you make.
A number of us are old enough to have a Social Security card that still says, “Not to be used for identification purposes.” A revision of the card has since removed this phrase, and the SSN is now the identification document of choice for both business and government entities. The “computer age” is largely responsible because electronic filing has replaced paper-filing systems in most organizations. Unique numbers are needed for identification purposes, and the SSN seems to fulfill that need.
How can you avoid giving out your SSN to “any Joe Blow with a security badge”? Well, you already know there’s a good chance you’ll be asked for it, so develop a strategy ahead of time if possible. Decide for yourself whether it’s to your benefit to release your number, and make them work for it whenever they insist on seeing it.
Ask why the SSN is needed and whether an alternate identification can be used in its place. Ask about the consequences if you refuse to release your number. Ask to speak with a higher authority so you can explain why you don’t want your SSN used for identification purposes. Insist on seeing the company policy or documentation that requires the use of your SSN for identification. Threaten to complain to a consumer affairs organization or use an “action hotline.” Later, follow through by contacting your lawmakers to express your concerns about the use of your SSN for identification purposes.
If you’re a leased owner-operator or company driver, enlist the help of your company. Ask your company’s contact person to step in to vouch for your identity or to provide another means for identification. If all else fails, and you absolutely cannot pick up or deliver your load without showing your SSN, it’s your choice to either drive away and accept the consequences, or give up your number. If you choose to release your number, you can request that they keep it out of their computer database, use it only for the immediate need and then destroy any copies.
Protect yourself from identity theft by keeping your SSN off your checks or other identifying documents, including your CDL — provided your state permits it. Review your Social Security Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement to check for incorrect information. Order your credit report every year and review it carefully to ensure thieves have not stolen your identity and used your credit cards. Use caution when revealing your personal information to anyone and be sure to shred documents that contain such information prior to throwing them in the trash.
Professional drivers can be sure that concerns about their right to privacy will increase with the demand for background checks and the need to ensure that proper security measures are in place to protect the public. The way in which these issues are addressed will be important to all of us who want to continue to believe that America is the “land of the free.”
Keep yourself informed of your rights concerning your SSN by calling the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213, or by visiting its Web site at www.socialsecurity.gov.
If you have questions that you’d like answered, please e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org or send them to me at PO Box 1000, Grain Valley, MO 64029. Although we won’t be able to publish all questions in Land Line, you will receive a response.