Many job seekers are concerned about providing their social security numbers (SSN) when completing job applications. State laws vary on what information can be collected from applicants, and most states don't prohibit companies from asking for social security numbers.
However, you have the right to decide whether or not you feel comfortable giving out your social security number – just keep in mind that it may impact your chance of getting hired.
Why Employers Ask for Social Security Numbers on Applications
Some employers (including state hiring agencies and the federal government) require applicants to list their social security number (SSN) when completing job applications. Employers may want your social security number to conduct a background check or credit check.
However, several states have prohibited or limited the use of credit checks for job applicants. Most employers that do conduct these checks do not do so until you are further along in the hiring process than the initial application.
When Employers Can Ask for Your Social Security Number
Employers are permitted to ask applicants for their social security numbers in all states. Several states including New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts require employers to put safeguards like encryption in place to protect the privacy of job seekers.
However, the Society of Human Resource Management advises employers - An employment application should request only information directly related to an applicant’s ability to perform a specific job… general practice, employers should request SSN information only when absolutely necessary.” Check with your State Department of Labor to ascertain any restrictions for local employers to request your social security number.
Your Options for Filling Out the Application
Just because you are asked for your social security number, does not mean you are obligated to give it out. It is important for job seekers to know that they are not legally required to provide their social security numbers to employers, with the exception of government and national security-related jobs or jobs that require a credit check.
With the rise of identity theft, it makes sense to be wary of to whom you give your social security number to. If the employer says giving your social security number is optional, you can simply choose not to give it. If it is required on the application, you can still choose not to list it if that's possible.
- Add an Explanation. You may be able to explain in your application that you do not feel comfortable giving them your social security number at this point in the job application process. However, keep in mind that if any job listing requires your social security number and you do not list it, your application may not be considered.
- You May Be Able to Leave it Blank. If you are filling out a job application, you may be able to skip the section where they ask for your SSN. Or make a notation that you would be willing to share your social security number once you are being seriously considered for employment.
- You Could Edit What You List. Another option is to list the last four digits as 0000. Of course, employers might choose to screen out applicants who do not comply with their request for information.
When You Have to List Your Social Security Number
If giving your social security number is a required field on an online application, leaving the answer blank may not be an option. Before filling in your social security number, make sure you are on the company’s legitimate site. If you are applying for the job through a job search site, consider researching or calling the company before applying to confirm that the posting is legitimate.
In cases where employers conduct credit checks on employees as part of background checks, applicants will need to furnish their SSN in order to receive consideration. Background checks are typically conducted on candidates who have already passed through the initial screening of applications. However, several states have prohibited or limited the use of credit checks for job applicants.
Check Before You Give it Out
When giving out your social security number, you need to be really careful about who you give it to and under what circumstances you disclose it. The Privacy Rights Clearing House has advice on how to carefully check out companies who request it and what you can do to protect your social security number online.
Tips for Avoiding Scammers
Scammers often ask for social security numbers as part of a fake job application or as part of the hiring process for a job that doesn't exist.
- If an employer ever asks you to send them money as part of the application, chances are it is a scam.
- If an employer you have never worked with or never heard of gives you a check, it is likely also a scam. Tear up the check and cease communication with the company.
- Definitely do not email your social security number to any prospective employer - or to anyone, in general.
- Avoid sharing any personal information beyond your contact information. Do not include, for example, your driver’s license number and/or credit card information.
The information contained in this article is not tax or legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law. For current tax or legal advice, please consult with an accountant or an attorney.