My Social Security Number - How Secure Is It?


Fact Sheet 10My Social Security Number - How Secure Is It?

When Social Security numbers were first issued in 1936, the federal government assured the public that use of the numbers would be limited to Social Security programs such as calculating retirement benefits. Today, however, the Social Security number (SSN) has become the de facto national identifier.

Government agencies and private businesses use SSNs for a wide range of non-Social Security purposes — such as employee files, medical records, health insurance accounts, credit and banking accounts, university ID cards, utility accounts, and many more. The use of SSNs as both an identifier and an authenticator makes these numbers highly desirable to criminals, such as identity thieves.

Social Security Numbers FAQ


Fact Sheet 10aSocial Security Numbers FAQ

A company I do business with recently called and left a message on my answering machine asking for my SSN and date of birth. I've heard one should never give out this information over the phone. Can they do this?  Is it normal to ask for this information?

I gave out my Social Security number over the phone and now I am worried that it is a scam. What should I do?

Someone knows my personal information and Social Security number, but I do not trust the person. What can I do to protect myself?

Learn the answers to these and other questions by reading our Fact Sheet on Social Security Numbers Frequently Asked Questions. Learn how to guard your Social Security number and what to do if you accidentally give it out.

Bogus Group Falsely Claims Signing Ballot Petitions Puts You at Risk for Identity Theft


[California-specific] A new 60-second radio ad airing in southern California is using fear tactics in an attempt to stop voters from signing ballot measure petitions.  The ad purports that giving your name and address to petition campaigners amounts to an “identity theft starter kit.” 

“The threat claimed in these ads is totally false. Social Security numbers are the keys to identity theft.  And obviously those are not collected by petition gatherers,” states Beth Givens, director of Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

Tax Season Tips to Protect Your Privacy


Tax season officially began on Jan. 1, which means you may soon be receiving "information returns" in your mailbox. Unfortunately, information returns are likely to contain your full Social Security number and other sensitive information.

Disasters and Your Privacy


Nobody likes to think about the possibility of a natural disaster or a terrorist act.   But as victims of natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina can attest, it’s important to prepare for a disaster before it happens.  Certainly, your first concerns in an emergency should be your safety and basic needs such as shelter, food and water.  While there are many resources that can assist you with those concerns, this alert will focus on protecting your privacy and personal information during and after a disaster.

It’s important to realize that different types of disasters are likely to result in different consequences.  You may be asked to shelter in place, to evacuate to a facility in your own community, or possibly to relocate to a far-off location in another state.  Or you may choose to stay with a relative or friend.  Likewise, you may be able to return to your home after a short while, or there may be an extended period of absence.  In the worst case, your home and its contents may be completely destroyed.

IRS Information Returns: An Identity Thief's Dream?


At this time of the year, you can expect to receive in your mail at least some IRS information returns that will contain your full Social Security number.  Your Social Security number is the key to identity theft.  For this reason, an information return (like a W-2) can be an identity thief’s dream come true.  In fact, some information returns may contain not only your full Social Security number, but your bank or other financial institution account number(s)—the perfect combination for identity theft.  Read our suggestions on what you can do to protect yourself.

Protecting Your Social Security Number at Tax Time


Identity thieves want your Social Security number (SSN) so they can assume your identity and commit fraud. Around tax time, protecting your SSN takes on even greater importance. The Information Returns that you receive (Forms W-2 and 1099) as well as your IRS income tax return (Form 1040) will all contain your SSN. Each of these forms, if not handled properly, presents an opportunity for your SSN to be used fraudulently.

Uses of Social Security Numbers in the Private Sector: Why SSNs Are Not Appropriate for Authentication


The SSN has evolved since its establishment in 1935 and implementation in 1936 to be used as both an identifier and an authenticator. 

This morning, we heard from a panel of experts on the use of the Social Security number as an identifier.  As an identifier, the SSN is provided by individuals to answer the question, “Who are you?” As an authenticator, the topic of this panel, the SSN is provided by individuals in response to a challenge: “Prove who you are.”

Social Security Numbers in the Private Sector: Comments to the FTC


Consumers often are coerced into providing an SSN as a means of authentication or verification, where appropriate authentication could be achieved through other means.  Our PRC consumer hotline receives numerous calls from concerned individuals who are reluctant to provide this information either by telephone or online.  They have heard the warnings about guarding their SSNs to protect themselves from identity theft.  Yet paradoxically, they are afraid to take advantage of two important services that can help reduce their potential exposure to identity theft.

College and University Privacy Issues: Social Security Numbers and Smart Cards


Overview: There are many privacy issues facing colleges and universities today. This presentation covers only the first two below:

  • SSNs as student identification numbers
    - Identity theft and other security issues
  • Multi-purpose "smart" cards, privacy implications
  • Violence profiling
  • Weapons searches
  • Drug testing
  • E-mail, Internet uses, websites, acceptable use policy
  • Records disclosure
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