In 1936, the Social Security Administration (SSA) established the Social Security number (SSN) to track workers' earnings for social security benefit purposes. Today, private and public sector entities frequently ask individuals for SSNs in order to conduct their businesses and sometimes to comply with federal laws. Although uses of SSNs can be beneficial to the public, SSNs are also a key piece of information in creating false identities either for financial misuse or for assuming an individual's identity. The retention of SSNs in the public and private sectors can create opportunities for identity theft. In addition, the aggregation of personal information, such as SSNs, in large corporate databases, as well as the public display of SSNs in various records accessed by the public, may provide criminals the opportunity to easily obtain this personal information. Given the heightened awareness of identity crimes, this testimony focuses on describing (1) how private sector entities obtain, use, and protect SSNs, and (2) public sector uses and protections of SSNs.
Skip to Highlights