Many people have questions regarding social security and privacy. Keeping one's identity safe is a pressing issue in today's fast-paced, technologically-evolved environment. Fortunately, there are a number of steps you can take to ensure your social security information stays safe.
Why Social Security Privacy Matters
When they were first issued, Social Security cards were printed with the phrase “Not to be used for identification”. Unfortunately, no legislation was ever passed to protect this concept. Social Security Numbers (SSNs) are currently used by many institutions as both proof of identity and a password. While this seems like a good idea in theory, it makes SSNs widely available in a number of forums.
What Are Some Social Security Requirements?
According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), any US citizen that receives income must have a SSN. However, the laws on this are unclear, and many claim that the IRS has no right to require this.
There is no set procedure for renouncing a SSN. Individuals are not required to reveal it as long as they do not engage in activities that legally require them to.
Structure Of A Social Security Number
The first three numbers of a SSN are assigned by geographical region. These three numbers are referred to as the Area Number. Prior to 1973, the Area Number pertained to the Social Security office the cards was issued in, and not the actual location of the applicant. Since 1973, Area Numbers have been determined using the zip code of the applicant's mailing address.
The middle two numbers are called the Group Number. They serve no purpose other than to break the number up.
The final four numbers are serial numbers. They can be a series of digits anywhere from 0001-9999.
Getting A New Number/Card
Replacement cards are available through the Social Security Administration (SSA) by using form SS-5. The SSA does not make it policy to issue replacement SSNs to individuals, with few exceptions (stalking, identity theft).
If you suspect someone has stolen your driver's license, credit cards, or SS Card, contact Privacy Rights Clearinghouse for up-to-date information of your rights, and also contact both the Social Security Fraud Hotline (1-800-269-0271) and the Federal Trade Commission.
Can You Trace Someone Via Their SSN?
The real danger of someone obtaining your SSN is not being traced. With your SSN, a third party could set up bank accounts or apply for loans and/or credit cards. In 2006, the average fraud per victim of identity theft was $1,882.
In oder to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft, be cautious as to whom you give your SSN to. Never carry your card with you in your wallet or purse. Use care when filling out forms that require your SSN, and never give it to someone who phones you. With extra vigilance, your identity should remain protected.
Further SSN Information
Wikipedia page on Social Security Numbers
“How Social Security Numbers Work”
Social Security Number FAQ from Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
Historical information on Social Security Numbers
Structure of Social Security Numbers
Getting a replacement Social Security Card
Tips on applying for a Social Security Number for immigrants
Identity Theft/Privacy Resources
“Guarding Your Social Security Number” - TIME December 2007
"Two Lives, One Social Security Number" - Red Tape Chronicles May 2008
The FTC's Identity Theft Site
“Think Your Social security Number Is Secure? Think Again” - The New York Times February 2007
Identity Theft Resource Center
Identity Theft FAQ
Internet security updates