Privacy Tip o’ the Day

I'm stunned at how much private data the average citizen will divulge. I was buying some stuff yesterday, and the clerk at the checkout asked the customer in front of me for her phone #, which she was quite happy to give. Next, I was signing up for gym membership, and the guy in front of me wrote his social security number on the membership form! Why on earth does a gym need your sosh?

So here's what I do.

Check-out clerk: "Can I please have your phone number?"
Me: "It's unlisted"

I have never had a single issue with this line, and it's not as argumentative as, "no, drop dead."

As for SSN.

Gym Membership guy: "You didn't complete the form, I need your SSN."
Me: "How will my SSN be used?"
Gym Membership guy: "I don't know."
Me: "I bet it's not needed."
Gym Membership guy: "You're probably right"
Me: "Ok, let's leave it blank for the time being."

End of story. Again I'm being civil, and leaving it open ended, even though I have no intention of supplying my National Identity Number, oops, I mean social security number.

In the rare case where someone thinks they REALLY need my sosh and I don't think they do, I'll enter my SSN but flip a bunch of numbers around, I take advantage of the fact there's no checksum digit in a SSN! 🙂

Comments (18)
  1. William says:

    Nah.. they need your SSN at the gym to make sure you never can cancel your membership. It’s so if you cancel your credit card which they "conveniently" charge monthly, they can go to the credit bureau to report your non-payment.


  2. Quine says:

    I concur, Michael. It’s unfortunate. I often wonder if it’s simply a matter of trying to avoid any potential "conflict" or the possible embarrassment of making a scene when resisting the request. Your tip is simple but nonetheless effective. Excellent!

  3. drew says:

    Some gyms essentially give you a loan for the entire amount you owe them over the next several years.  They probably need the SSN to access your credit report.

    Back when I interned at Microsoft there was an employee discount at Radio Shack.  However Radio Shack required the MSFT employee to give their SSN for each discount.  Even after protest they still required it, but of course there was no verification.

  4. Mike M. says:

    My favorite comeback when a retail clerk asks me for my home address, is something along these lines:

    *totally deadpan* "Actually, I’m homeless."

  5. Dave says:

    And here I thought I was the only one giving out scrambled SSAN and an erroneous birthdate (except where there is a legal requirement for this data).

    Even better, a relative has his dog’s name listed in the phonebook rather than his.

  6. Seymour Dupa says:

    When someone asks me for my SSN, I ask them if they will be contributing to my SSN account.

    After they say no, I tell them they don’t need it.

  7. Adam says:

    Oh, come on!  you should just say "Australians don’t get social security numbers."  🙂

  8. Adam says:

    PS: yes, I know.  It’s twice as funny that way.

  9. Chris Dalby says:

    I had this sort of thing in PC World (in the UK) last week when I was buying a new webcam:

    Checkout guy:  Is this for business or home?

    Me:  Business

    Checkout Guy:  What’s your address?

    Me:  Why do you need this?

    Checkout guy:  I can press the no marketing button its fine.

    Me:  so why take it if you’re not going to use it?

    Checkout guy:  Have you had a bad experience at PC World?

    Me:  No, I just don’t want to give you my data.  You know what, either leave the data or I leave the goods.

    I wish I had your no comeback technique!

  10. Peter.Delgado says:

    I’ve always been amazed that people are unwilling to give out information such as SSN# and address and yet they will pay for things with a check. The check contains the bank routing number and your account number which essentially gives out the keys to the candy store should anyone want to take them!  By the time most people realize that funds have been withdrawn from their accounts, the theif is long-gone and you are left attempting to prove to the bank that the account access was unauthorized.

  11. Sean G says:

    I always like the one at the Sprint store.

    Any time you walk into a Sprint store to discuss your bill they ask for your phone number and then for your PASSWORD.  Of course there are other people standing right next to you.  I usually tell them that I have tooooo many passwords and don’t remember my Srpint password.

  12. Jim says:

    I use an even easier method in store checkout lines.

    "Can I have your phone number/address/zip code?"


    I’ve never had anyone ask twice.

  13. Susan says:

    When they need your Social Security number (generally speaking) is when there is a check, typically over $600, payable to you (and not your employer).

    US Tax law, requires that businesses report all payments for services over $600 to individuals or partnerships on a tax form to the IRS called a 1099-Miscellaneous.

    Generally speaking then the entity asking for this information should give you a form I-9 to fill out.

    These days Hipaa demands that SSNs are not identifiers and Universities are stopping as well the practice of using/posting SSNs as identifiers.  (They use to post lists of our SSNs with our grades in plain view.)  Our health cards which used to list our SSNs no longer do.

    I’d honestly rather you refuse to give the SSN out than mix up the numbers.  They are a unique identifier and you just might hit someone’s real SSN some day.  Other than for tax purposes, there really is not a justification for a firm to use these anymore.  

    Also rules of thumbs:

    Credit card companies that call you should only ask for things like the "last four digits" as verification.  They should already know your address, the full number anyway.  If any caller asks you to give them the entire credit card number, refuse, get the name and badge number/identifier of the caller and call the credit card service number on the back of the card and complain.

    (BTW, trivia here… did you know the first three digits normally gives a clue of the location of where you were born/or state of Issue?)

  14. Susan says:

    Correction to prior comment…

    Make that a W-9 not an I-9

    (way too many government forms)

  15. JD says:

    My response to clerk asking me personal information is to say, "How much do you weigh?"  When she (for men I say as prissily as possible, can I have your ‘private’ number?)….Then I say, "you’re right, it’s none of my business, is it?" They usually look sheephish, and they usually don’t follow up

  16. Michael Angelo says:

    Two thoughts about diddling the SSN

    – the first 3 #s (are the state of issue) and middle 2 numbers (are groups – one used to be able to tell what year a number was issued from this ) can only be certain values.

    In either case, I am sure the highly trained expert behind the counter has already memorized the valid values 🙂

    – The second thought deals with our rush to make the theft and misue of SSNs illegal – So, I wonder if you intentionally use the wrong SSN, can that be a violation of the identity theft prevention laws…


    ps.  I love the I’m homeless for my address…

    pps..  I also like <area code> 555 1212 as a phone number…

  17. It certainly seems silly. Corporations should be more sensitive to the security implications of requesting such data. Let’s face it- their track record of protecting PII lately hasn’t been all that hot.

    I particularly enjoy it when I am traveling. They ask for my zip code and I give them one they don’t recognize from 7 states away. That will throw their marketing efforts a curve ball.

  18. My name is private says:

    Privacy tip o´ the day: realize that you don’t have any anymore.  It’s a losing battle.  

    Bonus points if you pay by credit card but refuse to give your phone number.

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