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Does Your Employer Still Use SSNs? 193

An anonymous reader asks: "My company, a fairly large telco, still uses social security numbers for non-financial purposes; mostly for our IT ticketing system. I find it amazing that in these times, with how easy it is to use an SSN to obtain credit, that any company still does this. I've heard talk for almost eight years that the practice is going to be stopped but little progress has been made. How many companies out there still use SSNs so openly? Since it seems that nobody is in a hurry to solve this issue, what can be done to speed the process up?"
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Does Your Employer Still Use SSNs?

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  • by kbob88 ( 951258 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @07:58PM (#16416145)
    I used to work in the IT department of a managed care company in the early 90s, and seem to remember something about it actually being illegal to use the Social Security Number for any other purpose (than running Social Security and the IRS). Of course, we (and every else in healthcare) still used it as a primary numbering/identification scheme. Not sure if the illegality was true or not.

    From the Social Security Administration []:
    • "[Makes] misuse of the SSN for any purpose a violation of the Social Security Act"
    • "Unlawful disclosure or compelling disclosure of the SSN of any person a felony, punishable by fine and/or imprisonment."
  • by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @08:00PM (#16416183) Journal
    Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) dentification_Number []

    Employer Identification Number (EIN) on_number []

    One last thing - I know many people who use fake SSN's for non-financial uses. For some time, Richard Nixon's SSN was very popular.
    1. A surprising number of organizations will never check your SSN's validity
    2. Try changing a digit, you might end up with a very similar & still valid SSN (that belongs to someone else)
  • Are SSNs of dead people later re-assigned?

    Not yet [], but they will eventually. That or add another digit.

    Less than a century until we run out of our billion or so possible SSNs. Expect the next method to just have a new digit thrown in.
  • by MustardMan ( 52102 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @09:18PM (#16417203)
    However, an SSN has only nine digits - So the SSA will need to add a digit or three within then next few decades.

    10^9 = 1 billion possibilities. If the current system has used up 415 million, and SSNs are being added at a rate of 5.5 million a year.... that's around a hundred years to use up the remaining possibilities. I call that more than "a few decades"
  • by phageman ( 627693 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @09:29PM (#16417319)
    I'm a high school teacher in Kentucky. Yesterday, every teacher in the state got an email informing us that letters sent to our homes inadvertently displayed our SSN through the address window!!! Anyone could have swiped the numbers just by looking at the envelope. I'm not worried myself (my credit is so bad I hope someone will steal my identity), but just imagine if some unscrupulous postal employee noticed thousands of SSNs in plain view.
  • by parasonic ( 699907 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @09:36PM (#16417401)
    How about the law that you shall not be identified by your SSN?

    How about the law that you shall not be required to give more than the last four digits of your SSN?

    No wonder there are "305 lawsuits" per average company per year...
  • by DeadChobi ( 740395 ) <> on Thursday October 12, 2006 @10:11PM (#16417789)
    I did the math on this for a math ed. class. It's about 110-130 years from now that we will run out, assuming the population maintains the same growth rate.
  • Neither of those laws you mentioned actually exist.

    A business can ask for an SSN when you attempt to buy a nine volt battery with exact change. Perfectly legal. You can, of course, refuse such a ridiculous request. Also quite legal. They can then decline to do business with you. Just as legal.

    It’s only the government folks that are prohibited by law from demanding SSNs.

  • Re:SSN (Score:5, Informative)

    by RexRhino ( 769423 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @10:28PM (#16417957)
    Only the government, state or law-enforcement officials may "demand" your Social Security Number.

    Completly false. Employers are REQUIRED BY LAW to take your social security number to handle SS deductions. Banks and credit card companies are REQUIRED BY LAW to retain your social security number in order to do financial reporting (so the IRS can check and make sure you aren't spending more than your reported earnings). Gun shops are REQUIRED BY LAW to take your social security number as part of criminal background checks. There are a whole slew of situations where, not only can a company ask you for your SSN, but they are required to take your SSN!

    Visa can not demand you give it to them.

    Visa IS REQUIRED BY LAW to take your social security number, or a tax ID number if it is a corporation, as part of their financial reporting requirments.

    Private schools by law, can not demand you forfeit such information.

    Private schools BY LAW ARE REQUIRED to take your SS number if the private school accepts federal government loans or grants for students.

    Don't try to obscure the blame that the government bears for your SSN being your ID number. Aside from the fact that they have made legislation making SSN the de-facto ID number (Real ID Act), it was the government that decided that you would have one single number that would follow you for the rest of your life as your unique identity (as opposed to the system they used for passports, where your passport is given a unique ID, but that number will change over the course of your life... your passport is assigned a number, not the person)
  • i'm a victim (Score:3, Informative)

    by feld ( 980784 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @11:03PM (#16418311)
    i live in WI and someone in Milwaukee (with many, many previous addresses) is reporting my SS. I have no idea how or where they are reporting it, but they're in the database with my #. They have never used it for financial things yet, though, so my credit is fine. I reported this to the cops several times but they won't do anything about it because they arent using it for credit related things. This pisses me off to no end.

    I have the original SS card in its original envelope from 2 months after I was born.

    I had a hard time explaining things to employers when I was a teenager because they'd do checks of some sort and find this other guy's name.... notably Radio Shack and Menards (Like Home Depot) were the main ones causing problems over it.
  • Re:SSN (Score:3, Informative)

    by jcr ( 53032 ) < .ta. .rcj.> on Thursday October 12, 2006 @11:24PM (#16418487) Journal
    In the beginning the Social Security Number was issued by the government and is unique to each living citizen. This much still holds true.

    Nope. There have been many cases of the SSA issuing blocks of numbers multiple times. SSN collisions happen every day.


  • Re:SSN (Score:3, Informative)

    by NormalVisual ( 565491 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @11:29PM (#16418531)
    Gun shops are REQUIRED BY LAW to take your social security number as part of criminal background checks.

    Not true. There is a field for the SSN on a Form 4473, but it's not required that it be filled in.
  • Re:i'm a victim (Score:3, Informative)

    by jcr ( 53032 ) < .ta. .rcj.> on Thursday October 12, 2006 @11:35PM (#16418581) Journal
    Not necessarily a single person. Many illegal aliens will pick a random set of digits, and they'll share numbers that work. Depending on the employer, they may need to change numbers annuallly.

  • by Michael Woodhams ( 112247 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @11:44PM (#16418655) Journal
    The problem isn't that people can find out your SSN.

    The problem is that banks etc. use knowledge of SSN for authentication. If someone accumulates debt in your name, based only on their knowledge of your SSN and other readily available data (DOB, mother's maiden name) then you should be able to simply disown those debts, sticking the problem back on the people who accepted inadequate ID.
  • by mjs0 ( 790641 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @12:26AM (#16418973)

    Not trying to scare anyone wife works in this field (no not stealing identities, helping people resolve issues arising from stolen identities!) and unfortunately it is not just about your credit. If someone gets hold of your SSN together with your name they can 'become you' in many different ways.

    One of the scariest things is when your number gets used for reporting income by many people. Even if income tax is withheld on the wages of these imposters guess what happens when you work 20 different $20,000 per year end up in the top tax bracket, and of course it looks like you've take the standard deduction 20 times. Guess who the IRS comes after to get all those extra taxes...the actual owner of the SSN of course.

    Oh and imagine what happens when someone gets your SSN and other info then applies for a driver's license in your name. Maybe 6 months later you get pulled over for a routine stop and dragged to jail for non-payment of speeding fines or even worse crimes.

    Are any of these likely, no...but as with all matters of probability unlikely does not mean does happen to somebody.

    And on the topic of companies using SSNs for non-essential situations...someone in that organization needs to look at a few recent laws regarding the correct handling of NPI (non-public information) such as:

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 13, 2006 @03:08AM (#16419919)
    In some countries the SSN-equivalents are public and not excpected to be a secret usable to prove your identity. E g in Sweden the Personal Number of all citizens is public. No organisation would use knowledge of the PN as proof of identity. That is what a photo id form an acreditied organisation is used for. The PN is simply a good key to use.

    One may argue that having compatible unique keys in almost all databases enables or at least simplifies abuse by correlating various databases. But as far as identity theft goes, the SSN only enables it if the SSN are expected to be kept secret. AS long as they are public they are no more useful for identity theft than your name.
  • Re:SSN (Score:3, Informative)

    by Alioth ( 221270 ) <no@spam> on Friday October 13, 2006 @07:28AM (#16421273) Journal
    I was in the same situation for a while (I ended up staying in the US rather longer, so in the end got a pukka SSN because I had to pay US taxes).

    However, not all banks are equal. The credit union at work absolutely refused to give me an account because they said they got fined if they gave accounts to people and didn't take their SSN. Bank of America, on the other hand, told me that was bullshit and had no problem in opening an account for me. All they wanted was a letter from my employer saying that I was indeed employed by them.

    As for checks - I never used them except to pay bills. I got a Visa debit card off my bank _straight off the bat_. They didn't want an SSN for that either.

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