Dear Liz: I want to get satellite television, but the company wants my Social Security number to check my creditworthiness. I dislike giving out my Social Security number to anyone in this climate of identity theft. Are there any laws that can help me?
Answer: You’re smart to be careful with your Social Security number, but if you want this company’s service, you’ll probably have to cough up the number.
Lenders are not the only businesses that want to check your creditworthiness before they’ll do business with you. Cellphone carriers, landlords, utilities and employers often want a look at your credit reports or credit scores as well. Some states have passed laws restricting how credit information is used in certain circumstances, but in many cases, individuals have just two choices: comply with the request for Social Security numbers or don’t do business with these companies.
That’s not to say you should hand out your number to any business that asks. If the business isn’t establishing a credit relationship with you, and isn’t in financial services — which are required to have your Social Security number to report tax information to the IRS — you should find out why they’re asking for the number and consider declining.