when did SS numbers become so important?

Numerous years ago-say 25- social security numbers were not so “secret”. They were treated pretty much like a person’s name. Used on driver’s licences, school registrations, various public documents. Then things changed. At some point, it became important to protect your SS number.

When and why did this happen?

Was it the rise of the internet? Why did that have such a big effect?

25 or 50 years ago, someone could steal your identity. So the crime existed back in the day. But we weren’t concerned with protecting SS back then. Were SS numbers important in this theft back then? Are they important now?

I guess I am asking why do people put so much importance on SS numbers? Compared to name, address, maritial status, age, etc.

SSN is tied to your credit so that makes it a big deal. If someone gets your SSN and runs up debt they will think it’s your debt.

It is bizarre that a public number that can’t be changed easily is so valuable to identity thieves.

And this is because the number is treated as some sort of password. They’ll ask if you know your social security number, and if you do, that proves it’s really you. Which is as stupid as asking you if you know your phone number.

An SSN is a user account name, and any financial institution that uses it as a password should be kicked in the balls, hard.

That is what I have heard-though I am sceptical. What I am curious about is when did this practice start? Apparently anyone can create debt in my name if they know my name and my SS number. Given that SS numbers aren’t really secret, that seems like a very poor practice on the part of the creditor. When did it become common to grant credit on the basis of a SS number?

All sorts of businesses would like to know my SSN number. My doctor, for example. I refuse to give it out. Occasionally, I’ll enter a fake number if pressed.

The 3 major credit bureaus chose SSN as the number they use to track you, I guess because it cannot change. Don’t know when they started that. Recently most other places stopped using SSN because of identity theft. My health insurance used SSN a while back but they don’t now. Colleges also used SSN as your student number but I think that also stopped.

It’s not your credit card per se. When the various credit agencies were set up, they needed a number to identify each account. There might be millions of Bob Smiths, but Bob Smith with a Social Security Number of 123-456-7890 clearly identified the person. So when you were issued a credit card, they credit card company would use your SSN to check your credit, and would report transactions to the agency using that number.

It was quick and convenient and, like much on the Internet, it was designed with the assumption that everyone would play nice.

Eventually, people figured out how to scam the system.

By then, other people had used the SSN as a general ID. It was on driver’s licenses (in some state), used for college recordkeeping, used for medical records, etc. These have been cut back or eliminated.

But the basis was that it was a unique identifier that everyone in the US had.

The basics, folks:

Lacking a Social Security Number, identities would be easier to steal.

Identity theft was easier back in the day (less checking and security protocols overall) but the payoff was pathetic or non-existent. Actually, one basic thing I mention later about shipping policies might be the biggest security feature.

First, because of the internet and electronic commerce instant sales/credit went through the atmosphere, and the payoff for stealing someone’s identity went through the atmosphere, too.

The other factor was numerous finance companies backing store fronts. For example, you buy a $5000 home entertainment system on instant credit. A 24 year old sales clerk employed by Best Buy gathers your I.D. and wants the sales. GE Capital approves the loan and you leave with the goods. Best Buy isn’t GE Cap and GE Cap also has interest rates of 21% to cover for the fraud they encounter. High turnover, some fraud and consumers who love instant credit regardless of the actual cost out of pocket.

Shipping: Used to be that you could only receive goods at the address the credit card is registered to, but you can order goods now on a credit card registered in one place and have it delivered someplace else. Again, the companies that do this absorb risk and cover it with high fees, and interest rates. Now, this is probably the most overlooked thing going on.

If I steal your identity, the payoff nowadays is instant credit (leave with the goods now – see my example) and the ability to get the goods to a address I can grab them at , thanks to changes in shipping policy.

Fraud always existed, but the two issues (finance company backed store fronts) and the change in shipping policy it quick and easy and provide a good return on the effort. Toss in high interest rates to cover finance company losses and it (identity theft) is here to stay.

Example: Sears used to be the number on financer of goods, like appliances, tools furniture. Sears cards were good to have, and not defrauded very often (versus current markets). Sears backed sears. Sears shipped to your home. Sears established a long-term relationship with the customer.



The change started with the Privacy Act of 1974, requiring all government agencies to provide a disclosure statement stating why they might need your SSN. Then there’s the Buckley Amendment (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) also passed in 1974 requiring written consent of educational records from taxpayer funded schools. Said schools must also comply with the Privacy Act. Both started the ball rolling.

When SS was first pass its use was a question. The only way SS was passed was the assurance that it would not become a national idenity number. That argument was one of the arguements used to try and defeet it in congrress. My original SS card had the warning “Do not carry this card with you at any time.” I had to get a new card 15+ years ago and the new card had on it “Carry this card at all times”.

In 1970 my Navy service number was just my Navy service number, in 1971 my service number changed to my SS number.

At one time the only time my SS number was used on the job W-2 and W-4, and when I filed my taxes. I believe it was during the 70s the IRS realised that they were not getting all the taxes that they could so banks were required to tie interest bearing accounts to a SS number. And then that was extended to all bank accounts. And then because you could deduct interest paid credit accounts were required to tied to a SS number.

Each year more and more things started to require a SS number and now it has become an national idenity number.

So as to the when I would say during the 70s and 80s

Here is an interesting Slate article about the subject.

I recall as late as 1989 many states were using SS# on their driver’s licence. Illinois didn’t but asked me if I wanted it on my driver’s license or not.

My college didn’t use my SS# to identify me, which now is a pain, as I don’t know my number and if I ever wanted any transcripts (last time I had to get them was in the mid 90s) I had to jump through hoops to find my college ID number.

If you have someone’s SS# it IS very easy to open credit. I have had this happen to me twice and both times I traced it back to H/R when I filled out job applications. Ths is why I no longer give out my SS# on job applications until they ask for a background check. And would you believe one of those two times I GOT the job and the dumb H/R clerk STILL used my application. LOL

A lot of people close to you are abusing SS#. This is why it’s important to have “fake” facts for applications. Like never use your mother’s REAL maiden name. Pick a fake maiden name for her and use it. This way when you talk to your (soon to be ex) girl/boyfriend he/she won’t be able to use that information.

It would be nice with the coming of the national insurance scheme if the federal government re-issued an new SS# for people JUST for SS and for the insurance scheme, and this would leave the old number for whatever. But that’ll never happen.

Computers definately helped spread fraud, but on the flip side they also STOP it quickly. For instance you can quickly find out if someone is using a dead person’s number now.

Is that constantly changing? I got one when I moved to this country for a job a few years ago, and it clearly says to keep it in a safe place and then in all caps DO NOT CARRY IT WITH YOU.

It wasn’t that long ago the local police urged people to mark valuables with their ssn. My dad used a metal etching tool to mark fans and other metal items with his ssn. This was very commonly done in the 60’s and 70’s. Cops would come on the local the news segments and offered to loan etching tools to people.

Now, the idea of having my ssn written on the bottom of household objects seems bizarre. Back then marking property made recovery much easier if an item was stolen.

Good I am glad. And I do not carry mine with me at all.

Could be bad, for example if you are in an ER and they need your medical history, STAT.

I carried the same SS card with me for almost forty years, then a couple of years ago I heeded the advice not to carry it in my wallet, and put it in my files.

I haven’t seen it since.

Unrelated anecdote:

I get tired of the sloppy way people ask me for my personal information, so when cashiers and the like tell me “I need to get a phone number” by way of asking for my phone number, I tell them “911.”

Hey, it’s a phone number.

I was actually born in 1974, and I’ve always been told not to give out my number to *anyone *but employers and, later, credit card companies/banks. Of course, everyone from school to Blockbuster Video wants it, but almost always, when I insist, they’ll use some other number for me.

The card itself stayed in my mother’s safe deposit box; I learned the number and gave the number when required, but never the card. I was flabbergasted two years ago when I went in with my son to get an Illinois State ID and they wouldn’t give it to him, even with his social security number printed on a copy of our tax return I brought with me (because I don’t have his number memorized) - they want to see the *card *now, and refuse to budge in any way.

Which is f-ing ridiculous, if you ask me; his 17 year old card has no discernible security features; I could make a fake one in Adobe in 15 minutes, including print time.

They require some proof of citizenship. A passport would have done. However, how is a number on a form you could just have typed there mean anything at all?