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.

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.”

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