Who can request your Social Security number

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Q. Social Security specifically states that a Social Security card cannot be used for identification. Since the card contains one’s Social Security number, and the credit reporting companies use the number for identification, how do the credit reporting companies and their customers get around the purpose of using the number to identify specific potential borrowers? What law, if any, allows that to happen?
— Figuring it out

A. You’re right that it seems everyone wants to use your Social Security number for identification purposes.

But you’re not exactly right about the credit bureaus.

First, certain government agencies are permitted by federal law to require your Social Security number. This includes tax authorities and motor vehicles departments.

The Privacy Act of 1974 says the agencies must disclose that the number is required and how the number will be used.

The act also says you can’t be denied a government service or benefit if you don’t provide the number except in very specific cases. This includes any notifications or dealings with the IRS.

If a company asks for your Social Security number, you’re not required to give it. But if you don’t, the company can choose not to do business with you. Or, you can decide to take your business elsewhere.

Now to your question: The credit bureaus don’t use your Social Security card for identification, said credit expert John Ulzheimer,

“Your credit file information is matched to an individual using matching logic that’s more about your name, address and date of birth,” he said. “A partial Social Security number match is used as a verification attribute, but your credit file isn’t stored by a Social Security number.”

Ulzheimer said when you go online and request a copy of your credit report, the credit bureaus use authentication questions that are derived from your credit report, but it won’t include your Social Security number.

“In fact, the credit bureaus can deliver a credit report without ever using your Social Security number for anything,” he said. “And, lenders can pull a credit report without using your Social Security number.”

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