Ways to Respond When Debt Collectors Ask for Your Social Security Number
People are often (and should be) hesitant about giving out sensitive personal information to people calling them on the phone, such as debt collectors. When debt collectors ask for a person to provide them with the person's full Social Security number, the person to decide how to respond.
Background: Why Real Debt Collectors Might Ask People to Confirm Personal InformationReal debt collectors DO have a legitimate reasons for asking alleged debtors to confirm certain personal information. Confirming an alleged debtor's personal information, such as address, date of birth, or last four digits of a person's Social Security number (SSN) is a common method of making sure the debt collector is speaking to the correct person. Debt collectors should do this because it would be a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) for them to reveal the existence of a person's debt to someone else without that person's consent. So while it may sometimes be confusing or frustrating, debt collectors should take steps at the beginning of a phone call to be certain that they are actually speaking to the person they believe owes a debt. Problems and conflict can arise, however, when the debt collector asks for the person's full SSN.
Ways To Help Avoid Having To Unnecessarily Give Your Social Security Number To Debt CollectorsThe reality is that there are numerous scams and fraudsters in the world that call people and try to get information and money from unsuspecting people. So when someone calls you trying to collect a debt and immediately asking for confirmation of your personal information, there is good reason to be cautious. You don't want to simply give your SSN to anyone - that's a great way to become an identify theft victim.
So what do you do when a supposed debt collector asks you to confirm your full SSN? First, you might offer them other, less sensitive information. Tell them you're willing to confirm your full name as well as your address - sometimes that will be enough. While its a little more sensitive, confirming your birth YEAR (or even your full date of birth) could also satisfy the debt collector calling you that either they have the wrong person or that you are who you say you are.
Second, you could also offer to confirm the last 4 numbers of your SSN only. In my personal opinion, while any part of a person's SSN is sensitive, its usually okay to use the last 4 digits of your SSN to confirm your identity with a debt collector over the phone. Giving the last 4 digits should satisfy the debt collector that they've confirmed whether or not you're the person they want to speak with because (hopefully) a limited number of people should have access to any part of your SSN. On the other hand, there's relatively little risk in your providing/confirming the last 4 digits of your SSN because there is usually very little that can be done by a fraudster with ONLY the last 4 numbers of someone's SSN (as opposed to your full SSN, which is VERY sensitive and should NOT be given out freely to others). So when debt collectors call and insist on confirming a person's full SSN, that person might get around this request by telling the collector that'd they're willing to only last 4 digits of their SSN. To be even more careful, a person could ask the debt collector to first confirm first 1 or 2 digits of the person's SSN (which they should have if they have legitimately been retained to collect a real debt). If the debt collector does this, it minimizes the personal information you need to give out, it increases the odds that you're talking to a "legitimate" company (not a fraudster fishing for your SSN), and it should then be sufficient for you to tell whether their correct and provide the last 4 numbers of your SSN in order to satisfy the collector's desire to confirm the identity of the person whose alleged debt they are trying to collect.
Of course, these tactics may not work in every situation - there are some real debt collectors that simply have a policy of confirming a debtor's full SSN before talking further about the debt. In this case, you have a choice as a person with privacy rights and financial interests to protect. If you're uncomfortable confirming your full SSN to someone calling you, you might simply say so. If the caller is a real debt collector, you could ask them to send you something in the mail with a "reference number," which might later be used to confirm that your identity.