Blood, The Red Cross, and Preventing ID Theft

Recently, I gave blood.  I like doing this as it is an easy way to save peoples’ lives.  I just fill out a form to ensure I haven’t been engaging in any risky activity, get a basic health test, a quick needle stick and my blood is on its way from my veins to the body of someone in need.  I even get juice and cookies afterwards.  What’s not to like?

Don’t ask my why I didn’t notice it before, but that form is what I don’t like.  This time, I noticed that the form included some personal information that I’d rather not have given.  Specifically, they asked for my social security number.  The ID Theft Victim in me1 started blaring alarms.  This isn’t information to give to just anyone.  I tried to think of the good I was doing and go ahead.  So, ignoring all common sense, I gave my information.

After my form was completed, another person came over to make sure it was all completed.  This person again read my social security number from the computer screen to confirm it with me.  Then, she printed it out… Twice since something went wrong with the first printout.  By this point, my internal alarms were blaring, but I was past the point of no return.  I couldn’t ask her to delete my number from their systems, rip up the paper, and forget she had ever seen it on the screen.

However, I did wonder.  Why was the Red Cross using Social Security Numbers in their systems?  With ID theft so common, giving out your name, SSN, and DOB is akin to giving a person the keys to your house.  Both will let a person come into your inner sanctum and mess things up.  However, in the case of the latter, you can change the locks.  You can’t change your date of birth or Social Security Number.  (Ok, you can change your SSN, but it is not an easy thing to do.)

I called the Red Cross and was told a few things.  First of all, I could refuse to answer the SSN question.  Their database relies on name and date of birth to make a match. This makes sense and there might be a hundred John Smiths, but only one who was born on January 5th, 1965.  Secondly, they *could* (and would) delete my social security number from their databases.  Of course, this just raises another question: Why do organizations (and this is not just limited to the Red Cross) as for SSN if it’s so non-essential?

In the end, I don’t regret giving blood.  In the future, though, I will definitely refuse the SSN part of the form.  I’d recommend that everyone else do the same.  You shouldn’t let that one question deter you from giving blood, but neither should you have to give up that information in order to give blood.  If enough people refuse to give their SSN when giving blood, perhaps the Red Cross will change their SSN policy.

1 Amazingly, in my blog searches, it appears as though I’ve never blogged about this.  I’ll have to write up a blog post about my experiences one day.