Leaving Home Without It

We hear a lot about identity theft. We also hear a lot about how to protect ourselves from identity theft, and one way to do that is not to give your social security number to anyone who asks for it.

The Curmudgeon likes this advice because, well, at the very least it gives him a legitimate opportunity to be curmudgeonly. After all, there’s unquestionable pleasure (at least for some of us) to be derived from saying “No” when the expected answer is “Yes, absolutely.”

He takes advantage of this opportunity every chance he gets. When he was preparing to move to his current home, right around this time twelve years ago, his would-be mortgage lender asked for his social security number and he thought this would be an interesting test of his refusal to disclose.

“No,” The Curmudgeon said.

“What?” the would-be lender asked.

“No,” The Curmudgeon repeated, although he had neither muttered nor stuttered.

We had a brief conversation during which The Curmudgeon suggested that the lender actually do some work in exchange for the considerable commission he stood to gain – okay, The Curmudgeon didn’t actually say that, but it seemed implicit – and try to get whatever credit information he needed without the social security number. Not to be a total hard-ass, The Curmudgeon told the would-be lender to let him know if the lack of a social security number proved to be an insurmountable obstacle while hinting that if that were the case, The Curmudgeon might give another lender the opportunity to tackle the same challenge

The mortgage application was approved – within minutes (yay, high credit score!) – without turning over a social security number.

The Curmudgeon has proceeded in that manner ever since. In the years since that experience he has opened and closed a number of new credit card accounts – The Curmudgeon has no credit card loyalties and routinely switches cards whenever someone makes him a better offer even though he doesn’t use his credit cards very often – all without providing his social security number.

But that twelve-year winning streak recently ended.

The people for whom The Curmudgeon works are very nice: unlikely many companies, they don’t seek to borrow money from their employees by requiring those employees to make work-related purchases on their own credit cards and then submit their receipts on their expense reports. Instead, they have always provided a company credit card – and not any credit card, either: an American Express card. The card comes in the mail and all The Curmudgeon has ever had to do is call the number on the sticker on the card to activate it.

A new card arrived recently and The Curmudgeon called the number, whereupon he was directed to punch his social security number into the phone.

Which he had no intention of doing.

It took three additional calls to get through to an actual living, breathing person capable of speech, but the company never backed down from the request – no, the demand: no social security number, no American Express card.

And that’s the way it’s going to be. Fortunately for The Curmudgeon, his work-related expenses are few: paper and toner for his printer, an occasional train trip to the home office and, every few years, an overnight stay in a hotel. The company reimburses its employees for their expenses very promptly, so the financial penalty for this act of conscience will be virtually non-existent.

So nuts to you, American Express: it turns out you actually CAN leave home without it.

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