Government supplies SSNs to identity thefts

Government supplies SSNs to identity thefts

Summary: The Washington Post reports on the prevalence of social security numbers in government documents. Federal courts banned the use of them on public documents in 2001, but governments regularly post pre-2001 documents with SSNs on public websites.


The Washington Post reports on the prevalence of social security numbers in government documents. Federal courts banned the use of them on public documents in 2001, but governments regularly post pre-2001 documents with SSNs on public websites.

Social Security numbers are readily available in many courthouses -- in land records and criminal and civil case files -- as well as on many government Web sites that serve up public documents with a few clicks of a mouse. From state to state, and even within states, there is little uniformity in how access to the private information in these records is controlled.

A recent spot-check found the nine-digit numbers -- introduced in 1936 to track employee earnings and benefits -- on hundreds of land deeds, death certificates, traffic tickets, creditors' filings and other documents related to civil and criminal court cases.

For instance, SSNs were found on documents in 38 of 48 cases heard by a county court on a single day. I don't like it. I don't like it at all," said the court's clerk, Judith S. Waddell. "Would you like your Social Security number being disclosed to the public? I know I wouldn't."

It's alarming, because the government should be setting the example in really trying to protect people's private information," said state Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery). "Look, there's a whole criminal underground now that thrives on stealing people's credit cards and usurping their identity for as long as they can."

Raskin plans to introduce a bill in the Maryland Assembly to tighten up state websites. Raskin learned about the issue when he got a call from activist BJ Ostergren, who runs TheVirginiaWatchdog.

She said, 'Do you know I was able to find your Social Security number and other private information about you and your wife online?' " Raskin said. "I was shocked, and I briefly flipped out, because, you know, these are days when everybody's privacy is under assault."

"The government loves to spoon-feed criminals by putting these dern records on their Web sites," Ostergren said.

Topics: Software, Banking, Browser, Enterprise Software, Government, Government US, Software Development

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  • The problem is

    that the SSN was never intended to serve any kind of identification role whatsoever.
    But as the nannystate grew, the government began to require it on more and more
    pieces of paper until it has become a de facto national ID card.
  • RE: Government supplies SSNs to identity thefts

    The problem does not exist because of government use of SSN numbers. You can get a persons financial information very easily. The problem stems from the financial community not knowing how to do anything to protect the individual. You use your SSN for almost everything and it's on everything from school records to tax records. Put the blame on the Banking and Financial Community. They are the people that are issuing the credit cards, loans, and other stuff without concern for if the applicant is really the person they claim to be.

    Rich Brunelle
  • RE: Government supplies SSNs to identity thefts

    The problem is using the SSN to get access to credit information. We need a system that allows us to establish a password that is required when opening a credit account. A password could be changed if needed, and kept private. Using a permanent number that is on all government records, medical records and can???t be changed to establish credit accounts is stupid. This whole situation is so screwed up that you have to wonder why the banks want it this way. Identity theft is a serious problem and the government needs new regulations to protect us. If we had a password system then we could go back to using the SSN on government records without fear of having the number released.
    KLS 12.5
    • RE: Government supplies SSN to thieves

      I agree with all of your points except one - the password. I am certain you have forgotten passwords in the past. I [b]know[/b] that I have. One thing that I did notice in the article, was that these SSN's appeared in public records that are available on government web sites. Stopping the problem from now on is relatively easy; going back and redacting the existing records is a whole new can of worms. But I feel that it MUST be done.
  • RE: Government supplies SSNs to identity thefts

    When was the last time you had a medical test run that you didn't have to supply a SSN? If you protest, they tell you that is how they store your info. in the computer. On the same note, how's the building security on your doctor's office? Mine's the pits.
    • The whole thing is illegal!

      SSNs cannot LEGALLY be used for ANYTHING other than Social Security purposes. Unfortunately, they are now required by all OTHER government agencies (makes my blood boil), auto insurance, health insurance, life insurance and financial firms. They do provide a convienient, nearly unique (mistakes ARE made) numeric identifier for AMERICANS. If we intend to continue using the SSN as we have been, then a "Citizen-Controlled" password needs to be included (that we can change at will) for security. (of course, the banks will SCREAM!!)
  • RE: Government supplies SSNs to identity thefts

    Whether its Government, Banks, or Financial systems if a Criminal wants it bad enough he or she is going to get it anyways no matter how hard we make it to get our SSN's. Doesn't help when banks &/or financial institute sells our info like they did a couple of years ago. Most of us are not thieves so we never think of someone using our info but the reality is no matter what we the people do to protect our credit someone is out there ready for the challenge to break it.
  • Government supplies SSNs to identity thefts

    After I purged my wallet of everything with my SSN and even the insurance cards had alternate numbers, guess what happened? Yup, I turned 65 and got a medicare card to carry which has that good old SSN printed right on the face of it.
  • Govt suppling SSNs

    The reason the state and local governments still supply access to SSNs is because each state and locality has different regulations on when and how they will be removed. Think about the amount of work involved in going through every single document, deed and court case back to when SSNs were first recorded. How do you remove all of them? Each bank and business uses a different form, each lawyer has different formats, where do you look for the SSN on each one? How much does it cost in terms on money and manpower to go through all the government documents? Who pays for the clean-up? (Taxpayers, of course.) Before everyone gets outraged about this issue, think carefully about what is involved from the other side of the issue.
    • Missed the point

      When ss# were issued they were not to be used for identification by Federal Law that changed that change was made knowing that the SS# should not be used for this purpose. The benefit of using SS# for any other use was for private parties benefit. State and local government existed before SS was created.
      • I think you missed my point

        Did you read my post? Reality is that all these documents already have SSNs, whether they should or shouldn't is no longer the issue. The issue is what to do about it, deal with the reality that exists. It does no good to debate whether SSNs weren't intended for the use they've been put to.
        • Issue new SSID cards

          The gov could issue new SSID cards with an alpha prefix - old SS number. When you need to produce a SS number you only give the numeric portion but that is not enough to validate the ID. They have to go to a source to obtain the alpha part to complete the ID request. All forms in existance can still contain the numeric portion but it become worthless without the alpha to apply for new loans, credit cards, etc. You need to supply the alpha to prove its you.
          • RE: Issue New SS cards

            I feel that you miss the essential point; a SSN whether the existing one; or a new format; does nothing to stem the widespread use of a [b]unique identity number that is directly tied to a specific individual.[/b] That is the crux of the problem; IMHO that needs to be solved.
          • I agree

            All that would happen is that people would atart stick the alpha portion on all these documents and you be right back to the same problem.

            We have similar laws in Canada for ours (we call them SIN numbers, sounds more interesting :) ) - By law, only appropriate government agencies, financial institutions, and employers are allowed to request a SIN number be present on a form, yet I still come across forms like property rental agreements that request them.
  • Exactly right you have no rights

    When these # were handed out they were Not To Be Used So! Now the smart guys did you for a buck are you happy yet? It took a law for the SS# to be used in such a way now they cant put the cat back in the box and wont fix it. Now the good news nothing will be improved in fact its going to get worse. Much worse. Why is it going to be worse? Because we knew better and did it anyway. This is the only principle that works. WE DID IT ANYWAY
  • RE: Government supplies SSNs to identity thefts

    ssn`s being stolen isn`t the problem its the impotence and careless attatude of the police and goverment about proscuting these thiefs thats the reason it happens in the first place.but if its drugs or speeding on the highway they use all thise capabiblitys. theres no profit in police control for personal thiefts of this sort.drug bust money in the bank speeding so forth and so on money in the bank. why spend money on cathing something else.
  • RE: Government supplies SSNs to identity thefts

    Since the SSN is a federal data element a carefully crafted
    law making it a federal crime to use a SSN for fraudulent
    purposes, with strong penalties, might help. But the FBI
    has more important things to do. So the way to do it
    would be via an elevation rule where penalties were
    doubled when convicted of a crime in which fraudulent
    use of a SSN were involved. "Use another's SSN, go to
  • RE: Government supplies SSNs to identity thefts

    Been there, been done by that. Family courts are the very worst. Most court filings are now becoming available on the Internet, too. Why are my ex-wife's SSN, my kids SSN's, and my SSN filed publicly and posted on the Internet?
  • Well, the solution is simple then...

    Well, the solution is simple then... just drop its use. No big deal. Of course if this is a question of convenience vs. security... you are all doomed.