SSN not a must to pay by check

CONSUMING INTERESTS

June 24, 2008|By DAN THANH DANG

T he Q:

The concern about who can and can't ask for your Social Security number never seems to go away, especially since consumers come across more and more businesses that demand those nine digits.

M. Silvers of Port Orange, Fla., said she was visiting her local UPS store to purchase a book of stamps when she was surprised by an employee request.

"They asked for my Social Security Number for my $9 order," said Silvers, who was paying by check. "I have used this store for several years with no problems. When I protested, the worker was sympathetic, but said it was a new policy of the owner. At that time, I tore up my check and paid cash for the stamps - I really needed them - but vowed not to return until no SSN is required."

Silvers wondered whether businesses can demand your SSN and if UPS had adopted a new, troubling policy.

The A:

Silvers was correct to refuse such a ridiculous request.

Social Security numbers should not be handed out unless the transaction has tax consequences. Legitimate requests from businesses might come when opening a bank account or buying a house, but buying stamps does not qualify. There is no law that prevents a business from asking for your SSN, but you also have the right to refuse to do business with that establishment.

Keep in mind, however, that the business also has a right to refuse to do business with you if you don't cooperate.

Silvers will be happy to know, however, that UPS has not adopted a corporate policy that could put your financial identity at risk. UPS stores are individually owned and operated as franchises. Individual business owners can create their own rules, but UPS corporate trains franchisees and gives them guidance on how to run their business. Requesting Social Security numbers when accepting check payments is not a practice that UPS corporate would recommend.

"Absolutely not," said Rebecca Andrews, a UPS spokeswoman. "That is not something that we encourage them to do by any means. We recommend that they ask for a phone number or your driver's license number. I don't blame [her] for paying cash."

Andrews pledged to look into the complaint and, within days, called back to inform me that the owner of that particular Port Orange store had decided to change his policy when informed of the potential risk to consumers' writing their SSNs on personal checks.

Silvers, also, didn't hesitate to inform the owner by e-mail that she would not frequent his store until the policy was abandoned.

In response to her complaint, Silvers said, the owner explained to her that the policy had been adopted after a third "bad" check was rejected for collection for not having sufficient information on the check writer.

Silvers said the owner e-mailed her to say, "In hindsight, I was not thinking about the identity theft issue. ... We have since changed the policy to get the driver's license, phone number and one other photo ID for people we don't know. You are still welcome to come to our store."

"I'm very pleased with his response," Silvers said.

We are, too. Kudos to Silvers for contacting the business about a bad move and also to the business for correcting its error in judgment.

dan.thanh.dang@baltsun.com

Reach Consuming Interests by e-mail at consuminginterests@ baltsun.com or by phone at 410-332-6151. Find an archive of Consuming Interest columns at baltimoresun.com/consuming. Read the blog at baltimore sun.com/consuminginterests.

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