Answer: Today, everyone is afraid of identity theft. Since your social security number is your unique identifier, it can provide thieves with a valuable tool, should they want to secure your credit information and ultimately your identity for purposes of securing credit under your name. Here is what the Social Security Administration says about your number:
Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America. A dishonest person who has your Social Security number can use it to get other personal information about you. Identity thieves can use your number and your good credit to apply for more credit in your name. Then, they use the credit cards and do not pay the bills. You may not find out that someone is using your number until you are turned down for credit or you begin to get calls from unknown creditors demanding payment for items you never bought. Someone illegally using your Social Security number and assuming your identity can cause a lot of problems.
Your number is confidential
The Social Security Administration protects your Social Security number and keeps your records confidential. We do not give your number to anyone, except when authorized by law. You should be careful about sharing your number, even when you are asked for it. You should ask why your number is needed, how it will be used and what will happen if you refuse. The answers to these questions can help you decide if you want to give out your Social Security number.
Oregon has the Identity Theft Protection Act which prohibits person’s and companies who maintain Social Security numbers as a form of customer identifier from printing a consumer's SSN on any mailed materials not requested by the consumer (unless redacted) and printing a consumer's SSN on a card used by the consumer that is required to access products or services.
While there is plenty of information about how to protect against identity theft, the real issue, when must I turn over my SSN to someone who is asking for it? The list is actually pretty short, and somewhat expected. The major ones are: credit card applications (discussed below); cash transactions over $10,000 (required by the IRS 1); when applying for certain federal benefits; for U.S. military paperwork; for employment purposes; and, when applying for a license through the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles. 2
Your question focuses on credit card applications related to your business. For consumers, their SSN is almost the sine qua non for obtaining credit. In other words, if you refuse to provide you SSN, you can kiss your application goodbye. Armed with your SSN and virtually nothing else, a car dealer or other merchant, can almost immediately determine your credit score. However, providing it to your doctor’s office or other provider may not be necessary. Much depends on whether you are on Medicare or Medicaid.
While it might be nice, as a business owner, if you could use your Employer ID number (EIN), if you had one, the issue is that when extending credit for small businesses, it is far easier to run a credit check on the consumer, i.e. you, that your business, which until recently, was not an option. However, in December 2013, FICO, the primary credit scoring company in the country, has opened up a service for small businesses. Here is what they say on their website here:
Getting approved for a loan is a major challenge for small business owners, but the reason they're denied credit is often kept secret. That's about to change as one key player in the credit scoring industry makes its small business scores available to owners for the first time.
FICO (FICO) scores are used as tools for lenders to determine the creditworthiness of applicants. Its general scores have been available to individual consumers for years, but its small business scores have only been disclosed to lenders.
Now, the service is partnering with companies like Creditera, an online credit monitoring system, to bring more transparency to the process. It won't be free, like many of its consumer scores are, but come January, business owners who subscribe to Creditera will be able to see FICO's Small Business Scoring Service measurement.
The change will allow small business owners to see how they're being judged by lenders, giving them a better idea of what kind of credit and rates they should expect.
Conclusion. Although this entire issue is beyond my legal knowledge, this approach, i.e. to obtain extensions of credit through your business, may enable you to use your EIN rather than your SSN. Since they are both 9-digit numbers, it may be possible to use the EIN rather than your SSN. In some business and tax forms, they are used somewhat interchangeably.
While this approach would not necessarily prevent someone from stealing your EIN, identity thieves typically go after the low hanging fruit, i.e. the SSNs, which are much more ubiquitous than EINs. Again, I admit I’m a bit out of my element on this question. I acknowledge that even getting an extension of business credit, may entail, at least initially, the use of your SSN. However, it may be worth a try, in order to see if, over time, when applying for business credit, you can use the company’s EIN rather than your SSN. For more on the difference between the two, see this helpful link here.
1 Actually, the IRS form 8300 asks for the TIN, or “taxpayer identification number,” which is the same as the EIN, or “Employer Identification Number.” For individuals, that is normally their social security number.