Social Security Numbers and Background Checks

Editor’s Note: This article is for informational purposes only. By using, you agree to adhere to all applicable laws regarding background checks. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 USC 1681 et seq., (“FCRA”), It is unlawful to use our service or the information we provide for any purpose that would require FCRA compliance.

If you’re doing a background check on someone, it can become a lot easier to get the information you need if you have their social security number in certain situations. However, there are some pros and cons of doing background checks by social security number. It’s also important to understand the process of doing background checks this way and whether or not you are authorized to do so.

Why to Use a Social Security Number

If you’re doing a background check on someone, you’re looking for their past or present information. You need to have as much information as possible, and you may be looking for specifics, such as their previous addresses, arrests and charges, or other public records. Using a social security number to get this information is the easiest way you can process a background check.

A person’s social security number is an identification number given by the government. This number can access all sorts of information about a person. You can think of it almost as a file number, with all of one’s employment records, licensing information, public records, and more. Because this information can be obtained with a social security number, it makes this the easiest way to get everything you could want, and more.

Downside to Using a Social Security Number

When doing a background check on someone using their social security number, the biggest downfall is having to ask the person for that number. Many people are understandably concerned about giving out this extremely personal information. Because social security numbers have been tied to just about everything you do, when someone gives you their social security number, they’re giving you free rein to their history and every movement they’ve made throughout their lives.

Just asking someone for their social security number can raise hackles and cause the other person to become defensive. While you cannot require a social security number for many things, you can ask. You are also able to refuse service, access, or anything else if the other person is not willing to give you this information. There are many reports out there about identity theft, and how harmful giving your social security number to the wrong person can be. Because of this, you may find resistance to requesting a social security number.

Social security number

Legal Issues With Requesting a Social Security Number

Keep in mind that while there are no federal laws making it illegal to request someone’s social security number for any reason, this does not mean that doing so is always legal. Some states have passed laws that only allow certain entities to request a social security number. In 2012, New York state passed a law that allows businesses or individuals to request a social security number only when it is required by law or when in relation to the following:

  • Verifying someone’s age when enrolling in a marketing program
  • A criminal record check
  • Banking transactions
  • Fraud investigations
  • Employment
  • Credit transactions initiated by the consumer
  • Collection of spousal or child support
  • Blood or organ donation
  • Enforcement of a court judgement
  • Providing insurance to those with Medicaid or Medicare

Any other reason you might have to request someone’s social security number is now outside the law in New York state.

In addition, many areas have laws that if you do obtain someone’s social security number, you’re required to keep it safe. Companies must safeguard customers’ social security numbers from employees, unless the number is critical to an employee’s job. These restrictions are in place to prevent identity theft.

Most states have laws restricting the display or even the printing of social security numbers. In addition, requiring someone to mail or send their social security number over the internet is illegal in over 20 states.

Using a Social Security Number for Background Checks

While there may be hundreds of people with the name Jon Smith, each of those has his own, unique social security number.

When doing a social security number background check, you can get name and address history. This is perfect for anyone looking for a relative. It’s also helpful for checking the validity of rental history when you want to check on a potential roommate. Criminal background information also comes up when using a social security number background check. The history of a social security background check can go back three to 10 years, though sometimes you’ll find older information on the report.

Another benefit to using a social security background check is that it is a quick process. In fact, this is usually the fastest way to get information on someone. Usually the trace is completed within one to two days, and since there is little or no confusion on the person you’re requesting background about, you won’t need additional information as you would with a name and/or address search.

Verifying Information Given

When it comes down to it, the biggest reason to run a social security background check is to help you verify the information you’re given. This can help you determine whether someone is an honest person. In some cases, this is the main reason to do a background check in the first place. If you’re considering working with someone, but aren’t sure about their honesty, checking their background report can give you a glimpse into this. Keep in mind that a background check isn’t going to tell you for certain about someone’s honesty, but it can give you an idea based on other information they have given.

Running a background check can be extremely helpful, depending on your situation. If you have received permission to run a background check, as well as a person’s social security number, this check will give you the most complete and accurate information possible. One example is that if you’re searching for a loved one whom you’ve lost touch with, using their social security number can help you pinpoint where they might be.

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