Identity Theft of Social Security Numbers and Information

Social security numbers are vulnerable to identity theft that is preventable to an extent. Social security numbers are often public record, meaning anyone who accesses public records that have your social security number on them can acquire it. Also, tax payer identification numbers can be obtained by identity thieves that data mine identifying information.   

Another way an identity thief might begin stealing a social security number, is by deducing number information from other personal data. For example, the first three digits of your social security number is geographically based. By identifying the place of residence when the taxpayer identification number was issued, an identity thief may determine the first three digits of your tax payer id. Identity thieves may also attempt to steal your personal hard-copy or digital records to obtain your social security number. The following methods may help prevent social security identity theft.

• State license numbers

Several states allow vehicle license holders to use a number other than a social security number as a way to avoid using social security numbers. These numbers can limit exposure of your social security number, and prevent identity theft related to circumstances where identity thieves can access drivers license information.

• Legally required use

Only government agencies and certain programs linked to government regulatory requirements can require a social security number. This means, you don’t always have to offer your tax payer identification number just because a form asks for it. Employers are legally allowed to request a tax payer identification number for taxation purposes, and in order to validate identity.

• Purge records

The less records that exist with your social security number on them the better it is for protecting against identity theft. There may also be supplemental information that can be used to deduce social security numbers, so keeping all personal identification safe is a good idea. Asking businesses or organizations that have retained your social security number to seal or eliminate your records may reduce identity over-exposure.

• Secure belongings

Securing belongings and identity can help prevent social security identity theft. For example, when asked for your social security number verify the identity of who is asking for it before offering the information. Other ways to protect social security data is to encrypt files such as digital tax returns, and use access codes for protected files. Keeping physical records safe by locking file cabinets and protecting personal belongings that can be used to identify you.

• Reverse investigate

To be especially diligent about protecting your social security identity from theft a reverse investigation can also be performed. This involves searching for data about yourself in such places as credit inquiries, search engine findings, compiling a list of organizations that do have your tax payer identification number and so on. The more information you have the quicker you may be able to track down an identity thief if your social security identity is stolen.

Sources: (Date of record, October 18, 2010)

1. (Social Security Administration)
2. (Privacy Rights Clearninghouse)
3. (U.S. Record Search)
4. (Federal Citizen Information Center)
5. (ARS Technica)