With the recent Equifax hacking scandal my office has become a hotbed of meetings about protecting confidential information. How, What, When, Where and Why this information needs to be protected etc,etc,etc.
I am not disagreeing that this is important, but the whole situation boils down to the fact that Social Security Numbers (SSN) are involved. The SSN is the biggest form of identification authentication used in the US. The number is associated with one person their entire lives, from birth to death. With one number you can find out almost anything about anyone. That information can then be used for good or bad.
The social security number was started in 1935 during the depression. It was intended for tax purposes and a way to track people who collected benefits in the new Social Security program. Prior to that the only entities that required a tax ID were businesses. They paid taxes based on size and how much money they made. Over forms of ID numbers were used if you worked for the government depending on what department you worked for such as the Department of Defense if you were in the military.
The SSN is set up in a AAA-GG-SSSS format. The first three numbers are the state in which you live. The second number represents the group which is a region in that state. The last numbers are random numbers with in that group. So for example if you live on the east coast your first three numbers will be lower than if you obtained your number on the west coast. Even if you move by looking at your SSN, the government can track where your SSN originated from and would be able to tell if it is fake or real based on the above criteria.
Children born before 1986 were not required to have a social security number because they did not work and their income was not considered taxable. Since most kids don't start working until fourteen years of age and they were considered dependents they did not require a SSN. The Tax Reform Law of 1986 and 1990 changed this because the government wanted verifiable proof of dependents being claimed as tax deductions. This is the main reason why children born from the 1990's on have a required SSN to combat fraud and abuse of the system.
With the advancement of technology, and the migration of people it has made it easier in some ways to trick the system. New identities can be created just by changing a minute detail, such as addresses, initials, or even by adding a junior. Most people don't monitor their numbers unless they are going for big ticket items such as cars, houses, jobs. The easiest victims tend to be the elderly, children and the deceased. These numbers tend to be targets because they are not actively in use.
The easiest way to protect yourself and your loved ones is to get your credit report every year. You are allowed a free one from all three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and Transunion). It can be obtained in paper form or you can go on their individual websites and download or view a copy. Fraud alerts can be placed on your SSN, you can then verify if the information is correct or not. If you want to go the extra mile, then you can engage a service such as Lifelock or something similiar which monitors and helps you fix the various issues that can arise from improper use of your number.
If for some reason the problem cannot be solved or it is a matter of personal safety then the Social Security Administration would assign a replacement number. These are two reasons why a replacement number would be considered. The others are if sequence numbers, usually the last four digits are in the same family and it causes a problem, or if duplicate numbers are issued, which is very rare. With these cases other forms of verification would have to be used to established identity.
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