your Social Security number|
If businesses are asking their customers to guard
their personal identification to help reduce ID theft and fraud,
but the businesses continue to use the Social Security numbers as
their main source of identification, the businesses are doing exactly
what they preach against by allowing access to these special numbers.
"It's a bomb in the town square;
it needs to be defused," says Mark Durham of Identity
Durham says the Social Security
number is much too powerful. "Why make one piece of information
so powerful that it can ruin your life if a thief decides to open
credit cards, take out loans or assume your identity?"
Giving out numbers
According to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, identity theft is facilitated when a thief gets ahold of consumers'
Social Security numbers, dates of birth and mothers' maiden names.
That's easy to do, given how extensively the information is used
by businesses, financial institutions, schools and government agencies.
"In a consumer environment driven by credit scores,
most businesses consider your Social Security number -- not your
name -- to be the ultimate validation of your identity. Your SSN
is the key that opens every door, and it never changes. For an identity
thief, that's a dream come true. Other information matters, but
your SSN is the golden ticket," says Judd Rousseau, COO and
director of fraud operations for Identity Theft 911.
The widespread use of the SSN as an identifier and
authenticator has led to an increase in identity theft. Once a Social
Security number is obtained fraudulently, it can be used as "breeder"
information to obtain a loan, access bank accounts or create false
identification documents, such as a driver's license.
With an estimated 10 million individuals
being victimized by identity theft each year, preventing identity thieves from
obtaining Social Security numbers is increasingly essential.
when must you give out your Social Security number?
Hillebrand says, "Unless it's related to checking
your credit record or used for tax purposes, there is no need to
collect your Social Security number as an ID number."
The USA Patriot Act has a customer identification
program, which means you have to give your Social Security number
in order to open a bank account or get a credit card.
"But once your credit line has been established,
there is no reason for that business to keep using your Social Security number
as an identifier," says Hillebrand.
That means cell-phone firms, utilities and credit
card companies, and basically any other business or government institution
that does not deal directly with personal tax records or credit
history can use other means to recognize customers.
However, that means more work and less convenience
for both the organization and the customer. According to Durham,
that convenience might be why both business and government institutions
are unwilling to discontinue using your Social Security number as
a skeleton key.
Numerous states have passed identity-theft and security-breach notification
laws that highlight the need to stop identifying a person by his
or her Social Security number and issue other means of identification.