Your Social Security number is not very safe for two reasons – where it’s been and where it will be going. Considering how widespread the abuse of SSNs by ID-theft criminals is, maybe it should be renamed our Social In-Security number.
Let me bring the point home by sharing a moment from a recent speaking engagement to business students at the University of Arizona. I was challenged by a couple of students who said they had no risk of identity theft because “they were so young” and their “personally identifiable information had not had a chance to be at risk yet.”
My response dashed their naïve thinking. I reminded the students that chances are their parents had multiple jobs as they were growing up, which included multiple health insurance providers and that their names and SSNs were still with those providers, along with the doctors, dentists and hospitals that they had visited over the years. I then asked how safe were their names and SSNs today?
Finally, I mentioned that most college students have a driver’s license and receive some form of financial aid, both of which require a name and Social Security number. How safe were their Division of Motor Vehicle records, along with their financial-aid forms, in these days of rampant data breaches? One of the two inquiring students acknowledged that she transferred from a community college from whom she received a letter notifying her of a data breach including her SSN.
I also shared with the college audience portions of a speech I gave to a national association in Las Vegas last year, when a financial institution CEO told me that his life and SSN were locked down and that he was a low risk to become a victim of identity theft. My response was to ask a few basic questions including, had this CEO worked for the same employer his entire life? Did he use the same home and auto insurance agent, tax preparation service provider, doctor, and dentist his entire life? Did he purchase his cars from the same auto dealer his entire life? Did he have health insurance from the same health insurance provider his entire life?
The answer of course was “no” to all of these – which means his name and SSN have been with multiple businesses and organizations throughout his career and personal life. Statistically, it’s likely some of these entities have had data breaches. When SSNs were first issued in 1936, the federal government told the public that the use of SSNs would be limited to Social Security programs only, including retirement benefits. Today, however, SSNs are the the default national identifier – used as an authenticator to confirm the identity of individuals. That makes SSNs highly desirable to identity thieves.
Mark’s most important: Add security to your Social Security number by assuming it’s been breached somewhere, or will be. Always be vigilant, regularly checking your accounts and records for unauthorized actions.
Mark Pribish is vice president and ID-theft practice leader at Merchants Information Solutions Inc., an ID theft-background screening company based in Phoenix. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally published on AZcentral.com and republished with the author’s permission.
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