your Social Security number|
a stranger all the particulars of your life: your bank account numbers, medical
records, work history and credit information. Not happening, right?
But odds are, you regularly give out the one key that
allows strangers complete access to all the information above.
That is your Social Security number. It's what identifies you as being you. No
other series of numbers can do what a Social Security number can, and in the case
of identity theft or fraud, that's not good.
history of Social Security numbers
Social Security numbers were first issued in 1936 by the Social Service Board as part of the new Social Security
laws. The nine-digit number was supposed to be used exclusively
by the federal government to track working individuals for taxation
purposes and to track Social Security benefits.
However, the Social Security number has become the
most frequently used record-keeping number in the United States.
Now, Social Security numbers are used as student IDs, patient identifiers
and authenticators to set up bank accounts and obtain loans.
during the first few decades that Social Security cards were issued, they contained
the phrase, "Not to be used for identification." However, since no law
was passed to prohibit the use of Social Security numbers as identification, institutions,
including hospitals and banks, began using the nine-digit number to identify their
The Social Security Administration estimates that
approximately 227 million individuals have Social Security numbers.
According to the Government Accountability Office, or GAO, Social
Security numbers have become the de facto national identifier.
in the mid-1970s, amid concerns over the growing amount of personal information
that was being traded electronically, Congress passed the Privacy Act of 1974.
This law states, "Any Federal, State or Local government agency which requests
an individual to disclose his Social Security account number shall inform that
individual whether that disclosure is mandatory or voluntary, by what statutory
or other authority such number is solicited, and what uses will be made of it."
Gail Hillebrand, senior attorney for Consumers Union,
publisher of Consumer Reports, says that over the years the Social
Security number has become popular because "it's convenient
and it's the same number of digits everywhere for everyone and it
stays the same, so it has become everyone's form of identification."
It allows financial institutions to distinguish one
John Smith from another.
"Social Security numbers are used way too much
for unnecessary reasons like identification on Medicare cards, student
ID cards or driver licenses," says Hillebrand.
She says that unless you are applying for a loan where
they need to check your credit history or a potential employer needs
your Social Security number for tax purposes, there is no reason
that businesses could not use a different identifier.
"Both government and businesses need to
distinguish between convenience and importance. There needs to be
a standard of disconnecting ID function from credit function,"