If you’re concerned your personal information might have been exposed by the Equifax breach, you can take steps to freeze your credit.

Let’s not fool ourselves. We’re disclosing our Social Security numbers left and right, and the massive Equifax breach is a wake-up call to sometimes say, ‘no.’

For the 143 million Equifax customers the credit reporting firm says may have had their personal information stolen, one of the first steps advised by Equifax was to enter a partial social security number. That process was riddled with problems, adding to consumers’ already deep sense of vulnerability. 

But Equifax, not withstanding complaints about how it handled the breach, is justified in asking for the information, says Jean Chatzky, author of “Money Rules: The Simple Path to Lifelong Security” and host of the podcast, HerMoney. 

Credit bureaus — Transunion, Experian, and Equifax — require this information, “to prove that you are you,” Chatzky said. They may also ask you to answer some other questions about places you’ve lived or loans you’ve had, or seek a partial number to help identify you. 

It’s also legitimate to get asked for it in any dealings with the Internal Revenue Service—filing our taxes or making payroll, for instance, says Joe Valenti, director of consumer finance at the Center for American Progress, a think tank. 

Insurance companies, credit card companies, and any company that sells products or services that require notification to the IRS (such as banks and car dealers) have a legitimate right to ask, too.


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More: Will the Equifax data breach impact your Social Security benefits?

More: Equifax data breach: How to freeze your credit

I know that well. Having recently bought a new house, I’ve been asked for that nine-digit number incessantly: By my bank, mortgage company, utility companies, and for a car loan.

What else? Federal law mandates that state tax authorities, departments of motor vehicles, entitlement programs like welfare, and other governmental agencies may legitimately request your Social Security number as a means to identify you. (But the Privacy Act of 1974 requires all government agencies to disclose whether submitting your number is required and how it will use the information.)

If you initiate a cash transaction totaling…