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Using Social Security Numbers for ID Not Wise

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Don’t use your Social Security number as a universal ID

Sometimes the simple answer is a bad answer.

Sure, we all want to simplify our lives. Give me one bill for my phone, Internet, and cable service. Perfect. Give me a single consolidated bank account for all of my financial transactions. Wonderful. Let me use my Social Security number as my ID for all of those services.

Whoa. Slow down. Wait a minute. That last step certainly sounds tempting. We’re all juggling too many IDs and passwords for email, online banking, web portals, corporate applications, ATM machines… the list goes on.

All of these IDs and passwords come with hidden costs. Thousands of people call help desks and support lines every day because they’ve lost or forgotten their ID or password. Each time an IT administrator has to reset an account ID or password, it costs about $35 in labor and related services, estimates Gartner, Inc. In a typical business, ID and password resets add up to a lot of wasted time and money.

There has to be a better way to manage your identity and your access to all sorts of accounts. Some proponents point to Social Security numbers as the magic-bullet solution to this problem. But in reality, it isn’t.

Sure, we use our Social Security numbers to set up credit-card accounts, apply for mortgages, pay our taxes, and so forth. Social Security numbers are the necessary starting point when you attempt to establish new relationships with banks, government, and healthcare organizations.

However, that doesn’t mean Social Security numbers are ideal for universal identity management. It’s far too easy for a hacker or fraudster to dive into your personal files—whether physical or digital—and hijack your Social Security number for personal gain.

Even the people who are supposed to protect our Social Security numbers frequently drop the ball. In August 2006, a technology company lost a laptop containing complete personal information—including Social Security numbers—for 18,000 U.S. military veterans.

Whether the laptop was lost or lifted, those 18,000 individuals need to now constantly monitor credit reports to make sure nobody has stolen their identities.

Seeing the Bigger Picture

The real key for successful identity management is to look beyond the simple Social Security number answer. Sometimes it’s far wiser to scour the market for real innovation rather than to move ahead with a risky solution.

It is far wiser to explore an integrated security solution that delivers a worry-free online experience and total peace of mind. Consumers should seek out solutions that offer complete protection against ID theft—without being forced to surrender their Social Security numbers at the door.

Don’t just settle for ID protection. The solution should be comprehensive, guarding against spam, predators, viruses, hackers, spyware, and wireless threats.

Consider all the different ways consumers now link to networks. During business hours, a laptop may be hardwired to a corporate network or small-business office network. But that same employee may also hop between multiple wireless networks at home, in the office, and while on the road.

In these scenarios, you’ve got to go beyond protecting an ID—whether it’s your Social Security number, a bank account number, or your home address. Consumers need a single, integrated security solution that continually protects them from all threats. Make sure your computer has a suite of powerful software that protects you from cyber-prowlers who want to steal your identity.

When Should I Give Out My Social Security Number?

Your employer and financial institutions will need your Social Security number for wage and tax-reporting purposes. Other businesses may ask you for your Social Security number to do a credit check if you are applying for a loan, renting an apartment, or signing up for utilities. Sometimes, however, they simply want your Social Security number for general record-keeping. If someone asks for your Social Security number, ask:

  • Why do you need my Social Security number?
  • How will my Social Security number be used?
  • How do you protect my Social Security number from being stolen?
  • What will happen if I don't give you my Social Security number?

If you don't provide your Social Security number, some businesses may not provide you with the service or benefit you want. Getting satisfactory answers to these questions will help you decide whether you want to share your Social Security number with the business. The decision to share is yours. Don’t use your Social Security number as a default or universal ID.

Should I Apply for a New Social Security Number?

Under certain circumstances, the Social Security Administration may issue you a new Social Security number—at your request—if, after trying to resolve the problems brought on by identity theft, you continue to experience problems. Consider this option carefully. A new Social Security number may not resolve your identity-theft problems, and may actually create new problems.

For example, a new Social Security number does not necessarily ensure a new credit record because credit bureaus may combine the credit records from your old Social Security number with those from your new Social Security number. Even when the old credit information is not associated with your new Social Security number, the absence of any credit history under your new Social Security number may make it more difficult for you to get credit. And finally, there's no guarantee that a new Social Security number wouldn't also be misused by an identity thief.


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