Using Social Security numbers as identification carries dangers

When it was born, the Social Security number was not intended to be used for identification purposes.

That rule still stands.

However, today the number is routinely used to identify credit card owners, bank customers and students, among others.

Under the federal Privacy Act of 1974, government agencies cannot deny services to people who withhold their numbers. Private businesses do not share such restrictions, said Beth Givens, the founder and director of Privacy Rights Clearinghouse,

Because of this, insurance companies, cell phone companies and other businesses may use the number to identify customers, Givens said. If customers do not relinquish their numbers, the businesses do not have to serve them, she added.

"There's a very strong element of coercion," Givens said. "You are stuck."

Givens also said employees may have to use their number to log on to their business network. Some banks use them as PIN numbers for online banking, which Givens said is "a terrible practice."

Many people also put Social Security cards inside purses or wallets. They are also sometimes displayed on drivers' licenses, a practice citizens should stay away from, said an official of Muncie's Social Security office.

"Say you were getting your driver's license," said James Warrner, district manager of Muncie's Social Security office. "You hand the clerk at the desk all types of identification and information, including your Social Security number. The second you walk away, all of that information could be put into their pocket. You would never know that this stranger could do a lot of damage."

Since the Social Security card does not have a picture on it, Warrner said people can easily pass off someone else's card as their own.

Warrner said people can protect themselves by keeping the card in a safe place and giving the number out only when they feel it is completely necessary.

"I strongly suggest to always ask, or substitute using your number with another form of identification," Warrner said.

When it was born, the Social Security number was not intended to be used for identification purposes.

That rule still stands.

However, today the number is routinely used to identify credit card owners, bank customers and students, among others.

Under the federal Privacy Act of 1974, government agencies cannot deny services to people who withhold their numbers. Private businesses do not share such restrictions, said Beth Givens, the founder and director of Privacy Rights Clearinghouse,

Because of this, insurance companies, cell phone companies and other businesses may use the number to identify customers, Givens said. If customers do not relinquish their numbers, the businesses do not have to serve them, she added.

"There's a very strong element of coercion," Givens said. "You are stuck."

Givens also said employees may have to use their number to log on to their business network. Some banks use them as PIN numbers for online banking, which Givens said is "a terrible practice."

Many people also put Social Security cards inside purses or wallets. They are also sometimes displayed on drivers' licenses, a practice citizens should stay away from, said an official of Muncie's Social Security office.

"Say you were getting your driver's license," said James Warrner, district manager of Muncie's Social Security office. "You hand the clerk at the desk all types of identification and information, including your Social Security number. The second you walk away, all of that information could be put into their pocket. You would never know that this stranger could do a lot of damage."

Since the Social Security card does not have a picture on it, Warrner said people can easily pass off someone else's card as their own.

Warrner said people can protect themselves by keeping the card in a safe place and giving the number out only when they feel it is completely necessary.

"I strongly suggest to always ask, or substitute using your number with another form of identification," Warrner said.


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