If you’ve been concerned about the widespread use of your SSN, you’re not alone. A recent Consumer Reports Poll has found that 89 Percent of Americans Want Lawmakers to Restrict the Use of Social Security Numbers, and that Americans are routinely asked for Social Security Numbers by businesses
and government agencies, fueling concerns about identity theft.
Some more interesting findings:
Social Security numbers are used by businesses to identify and authenticate the identity of individuals and can be easily found on the Internet, in public records, on identification cards, and in mail sent to consumers. The poll results confirm that solicitation and use of Social Security numbers is widespread:
• In the past year, 60 percent of consumers have been asked by a financial institution or retailer issuing credit to provide their Social Security number, while 49 percent have been asked to disclose their number to
health care providers.
• Consumers also reported being asked to provide their Social Security number in the past year to a wide variety of other entities, including: employers or potential employers (44%); insurance companies (36%); government agencies other than the IRS or a state tax body (32%); college or other school (28%); service provider such as cable TV or cell phone carrier (26%); utilities (17%), and merchant or retailer (16%).
• More than four in ten Americans (42%) have been asked to provide their full or partial Social Security number on the phone or internet to access goods or services or to verify their identity to customer service representatives.
• One in seven Americans (14%) reported that they received postal mail (other than tax documents) bearing their own or a family member’s Social Security number in the past year.
• Fifty two percent of Americans carry a card in their wallets that has their number on it.
The poll also found that 68 percent of Americans agreed that they should be given the ability to freeze access to their credit files at no charge to stop new accounts from being opened unless they unlock the credit file with a PIN. Outside the event of a data security breach, 97 percent of Americans want the ability to freeze access to credit files to prevent thieves from opening fraudulent accounts. And only 12 percent preferred free credit monitoring when Social Security numbers have been involved in breaches, which is the remedy often provided by companies that fail to keep sensitive files protected.
Congress has introduced legislation restricting the widespread use of SSNs.
Urge your legislators to put an end to the unnecessary collection and use of Social Security Numbers, make sure that you find out when your personal information has been lost or stolen by a business or governmental agency, and make sure you have the right to use a security freeze, to lock out identity thieves from using your credit file to open new accounts!
Read Consumers Union September 6, 2007 press release
Read Consumers Union’s comments to the Federal Trade Commission on the poll’s results