The Fraud Examiner

Social Security Number Randomization
 

February 2012 

By Laura Telford 

 

As of June 2011, the Social Security Administration administers Social Security numbers randomly. Prior to this change, Social Security numbers were based, at least partially, on the geographical location of the recipient.

  
The Social Security program began in 1935 as part of the New Deal. Not every citizen has a Social Security number (SSN), but one is required for parents to claim their children as dependents for tax purposes. A Social Security number is made up of three sets of digits: The first set, often called the area number, is based on the zip code from which the recipient filed for his or her card. The second set is a two-digit group number between 01 and 99, though not assigned consecutively. The last set of digits is a four-digit serial number between 0001 and 9999, assigned sequentially based on group number.


The main issue with Social Security numbers in the modern era is that they were really never meant to be used as a form of unique identification. Even though there is no way to prove that a person’s Social Security number belongs to the person using it (there are no biometric identification characteristics to it), it is often viewed as the be-all and end-all of verification. Unfortunately, because of the way in which SSNs are generated, a person can come pretty close to guessing someone’s Social Security number if they know the date and place of the person’s birth. In fact, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University were able to come up with an algorithm to correctly calculate a person’s Social Security number using publicly available information.


Randomly generating Social Security numbers will be a big help in avoiding fraudulent usage of them. However, it does not do much to protect those Americans who were issued Social Security numbers prior to June 2011. Unless an existing Social Security number has been compromised or sequential numbers assigned to members of the same family are causing problems, new numbers will not be issued. According to the Social Security Administration (www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10064.html), you should treat your Social Security number as confidential information and avoid giving it out unnecessarily.



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