Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Social Security Numbers Easily Guessed

An interesting new report shows how easy recent Social Security numbers have become to guess.
"It was far easier to predict SSNs for people born after 1988, when the Social Security Administration began an effort to ensure that U.S. newborns obtained their SSNs shortly after birth."
Yikes! This new study has me rethinking the safety of providing information on blogs. I intentionally don't provide any real names for such reasons. But it sounds like all thieves really need is a name, date of birth, and home town to come to a close approximation of a Social Security number.

So if you or your kids were born after 1988, it's that much more important that you safeguard such basic information.

Here's how the system works:
"The Social Security number's first three digits -- called the "area number" -- is issued according to the Zip code of the mailing address provided in the application form. The fourth and fifth digits -- known as the "group number" -- transition slowly, and often remain constant over several years for a given region. The last four digits are assigned sequentially.

As a result, SSNs assigned in the same state to applicants born on consecutive days are likely to contain the same first four or five digits, particularly in states with smaller populations and rates of birth.

As it happens, the researchers said, if you're trying to discover a living person's SSN, the best place to start is with a list of dead people -- particularly deceased people who were born around the time and place of your subject. The so-called "Death Master File," is a publicly available file which lists SSNs, names, dates of birth and death, and the states of all individuals who have applied for a number and whose deaths have been reported to the Social Security Administration."
While the study says that if you were born in a big state on a busy day you're probably still safe, I figure it's worth being cautious. Even if the Social Security Administration begins randomly assigning SSNs, that will only benefit future applicants. And as I understand it, even if your identity has been stolen, it's still incredibly hard (if possible) to get a new SSN.

Source: Researchers: Social Security Numbers Can Be Guessed