Actually, you DO want to give me your Social Security number.

It's always smart to refuse to give anyone your Social Security number. I almost never tell anyone mine. Leave that line blank on the form. Hang up the phone when someone asks for your Social Security number. Definitely.

Except when you're buying life insurance.

Don't put your Social Security number on any forms, everyone says, and there's wisdom in that — almost all of the time. Sometimes, though, you could really do yourself a favor by giving your SS#.

Specifically: Life insurance. You're buying a policy to take care of your loved ones after you're gone, and I work at an insurance company, so let me tell you what happens, all too often.

You bought an insurance policy, and then your life went on. Eventually, maybe ten years later, maybe twenty or thirty or forty years later, you flat-out forgot that you bought an insurance policy. Old folks are forgetful. 

Or you moved, and didn't think to send us your new address. 

Or you never told anyone in your family about this policy, and now you're old and frail, or you're hospitalized or you're in a nursing home, or maybe you're dead. That's the end for all of us, and that's why you bought a life insurance policy.

But the insurance company no longer knows where you live, or even whether you're alive.

That's where I come in. I work in the insurance company's mailroom. We've sent you an annual statement concerning your policy, or a past-due notice on your monthly premium, and it's been returned by the Post Office as undeliverable. Now it's my job to try to find your current address.

One of our main tools for finding lost customers is LexisNexis, the big and downright Orwellian database of almost everyone almost everywhere in America. LexisNexis can cross-reference your name and date-of-birth, and tell us where you're probably at. Or we can input a valid previous address of yours, and LexisNexis can usually tell us where you live. With this tool, we can solve the riddle and find our misplaced customers 95% of the time. That last five percent, though, is an awful lot of people.

And you know what's the very best info we can input to LexisNexis, to find your whereabouts? Yeah, it's your Social Security number. It's uniquely yours — you use it when you work, when you go to college, when you file for public benefits, when you marry, when you divorce, when you declare bankruptcy, and when you die, and it gets reported to LexisNexis every time. Creepy? Always.

But you own an insurance policy, remember? And we don't know where you are. If you gave us your Social Security number when you bought the policy, we can search for those nine digits, and we're almost certain to find your current address, or the address where you were living when you died.

If you write "refused" on that line, we'll still sell you the policy. But now, ten or twenty or forty years later, when we don't have your address, when you're near death or dead and your family might not even know you have an insurance policy ... we'll still try to find you , but it's a lot less likely.

At my company, we have many thousands of "lost" policies, bought and paid for years or decades ago, but we don't know where the Insured lives, or whether he/she is dead or alive. It's my least favorite part of my job, to mark policies "whereabouts unknown," but I do it a hundred times every week.

What happens then? Well, if you owe us monthly or annual payments, your policy slips into default. We'll keep trying to find you, keep sending premium notices and past-due bills, but if we can't track you down then your policy will lapse, and be cancelled. You'll be out every dime you've ever paid.

If your policy is already paid in full but we don't know where you are, and your family doesn't know about your insurance policy, your loved ones will get nada when you die.

All because you didn't give us your Social Security number.

In closing, let me say again that LexisNexis is inarguably creepy as hell. It knows way too much about way too many of us. It probably ought to be illegal.

Remember, though, me and my co-workers aren't debt collectors, we're not the cops, and we're not stalking you. We're covered under HIPAA (the privacy law) and we're not going to sell your data. We're just trying to keep you or your family connected with the insurance policy you paid many thousands of dollars to purchase. No matter how much you value your privacy, just this once you're rooting for someone to find you.



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