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(KTVI) – Some businesses, schools and health care providers once used Social Security numbers to keep track of employees, students and patients. But concern over identity theft has prompted savvy companies to switch to other ways to identify their people and accounts.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) has tips to help you know when you must provide a Social Security number and when you can politely refuse.

“Identity thieves are ready to pounce on information they can use to create new accounts to steal money from consumers and businesses,” said Michelle L. Corey, BBB President and CEO. “Although some businesses have the right to your Social Security number, many don’t need that information.”

According to the Social Security Administration, consumers are obliged to provide their number for tax returns and federal loans, credit applications, government programs like food stamps or Medicare, financial institutions, employers and state agencies who license motor vehicles.  Social Security numbers are also required to obtain reports from credit reporting companies.

Physicians, dentists, utilities, prospective employers, employment recruiters, temporary agencies and schools also ask for the numbers, along with some retailers and pawn shops.  You aren’t required to provide the information to these businesses, but they also may refuse to do with you if you refuse.

Some businesses may ask for the number so they can run a credit check. This may happen if you’re buying a wireless phone or financing a car, for example.

The BBB has the following tips for consumers to use when asked for a Social Security number:

  • Ask under what law the number is required.
  • Find out if alternative methods of identification are acceptable, such as a driver’s permit or only the last four digits of your number.
  • In the case of employment recruiters or temp agencies, find out whether you may give your Social Security number directly to a potential employer.
  • Determine who will have access to this data.
  • Ask what steps are taken to protect your personal information.

The Better Business Bureau advises consumers not to enter a Social Security number online or give it over the telephone or in an email.  Lock tax and other documents which contain your Social Security number in a safe place. When they are no longer needed, shred them before disposing of them.

For more advice on fighting fraud and managing personal finances, visit or call 314-645-3300.