Social Security Number basis for privacy protection - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Social Security Number basis for privacy protection

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Your personal information is under attack.

First it was the hacking of the state's Department of Revenue, now Nationwide Insurance revealed 12,500 Social Security numbers, birth dates, and driver's license numbers may be compromised.

It has more people protecting their private information and questioning just who needs to have that information.

Social Security cards were initially devised to keep an accurate record of your individual earnings. Today it's used as a general identifier and crooks will go to extreme lengths, hacking the state Department of Revenue and Nationwide Insurance to get it.

While Nationwide's web site promises your information will remain confidential and secure, that didn't happen.

"To me it's very concerning when large companies who should understand this being their business, have issues with handling information," said Todd Rhoad of Atlanta.

Today many question, who really needs the information?

"I wouldn't give anybody my personal information," said Jeanie Scarborough of West Columbia.

Government agencies providing services including the IRS, your employer for tax purposes, and banks for monetary transactions can require it. But you can refuse to give it to a business or other enterprise and many are.

"You have to make that decision if it's worth signing up for the card," said Princess Stringfellow of Chester. "Or you might opt to write it down and take that piece of paper back with you."

A link on the FTC's web site reveals you can review your Social Security Statement online, which would let you know if someone has used your SSN to get a job. You can choose to block electronic access to your Social Security record, preventing anyone, including yourself from being able to see or change your personal information online.

Many feel credit monitoring is enough.

"A lot of peace of mind, You know this is the 21st century and people are doing all kinds of things," said Rosemary Kennedy of Columbia. "You know back then, we didn't have to worry about Social Security and people trying to hack into your computer. We didn't have to worry about that, but this day in age you have to be so careful."

Which is why you should never print your Social Security number on a check, business card, or other label. You shouldn't carry your card in your wallet. Ask why your number is requested and suggest alternatives, including your driver's license number.

Nationwide Insurance has issued letters to customers who were affected by the breach.  Those customers are also eligible for a free year of credit monitoring thorough Equifax.

Additional Resources:

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse

Get your Social Security Statement

How can I protect my Social Security number?

  1. Adopt a policy of not giving out your SSN unless you are convinced it's required or is to your benefit. Ask any requestor to explain why it is needed.
  2. Never print or write your Social Security number on your checks, business cards, address labels or other identifying information.
  3. Do not carry your SSN card in your wallet except for situations when it is required, such as the first day of a new job. If possible, do not carry any items in your wallet that include your SSN, such as insurance cards, except when they are needed to receive healthcare services. Your wallet could be lost or stolen, resulting in your SSN being vulnerable to fraudulent use.
  4. Order a copy of your free credit reports each year by calling (877) 322-8228 and using the automated telephone system to process your request. If you are a victim of identity theft, the credit report will likely contain evidence of credit or banking fraud committed using your name and SSN. It will also show other SSNs or names associated with you.
  5. If a private business requests your SSN:
    • Leave the space for the SSN on the form blank or write "refused" or "N/A" in that space.
    • Speak to someone in management or write to the business and explain why you do not want your SSN used to identify you. If you don't receive satisfaction from the first person you contact, go to someone in the organization with more authority.
    • Insist that the company document its policy of why they are requiring a SSN. If a written policy cannot be found or too much time is taken looking for one, maybe the business will allow you to use an alternate number.
    • Ask why your SSN is requested and suggest alternatives like using your driver's license number 
    • If the company insists on having your SSN, explain that you will take your business elsewhere. If the company persists, follow through on your promise.
  6. If your employer releases or displays your SSN, explain why you disapprove of this practice. Some employers do not treat SSNs as confidential information. They may be willing to change their policy when they understand the twin dangers of invasion of privacy and potential for fraud.
  7. If your bank, credit union or other financial service provider uses your Social Security number as a personal identification number (PIN) or as the identifier for banking by phone or the Internet, write a letter of complaint. Demand to have a different PIN and/or identification number assigned. Explain why the SSN is an extremely poor choice for a password or security code. If you voluntarily use the last four digits of your SSN as your PIN for ATM and other banking or credit transactions, change it to something else, but not to a common number such as your birth date, telephone number, or ZIP code.
  8. Federal law requires state Motor Vehicles departments to use a number other than the SSN for the driver's license number.  If your license has not been renewed for several years and still shows your SSN as the ID number, you can request this be changed. You don't need to wait until it expires to get one with a different number, though you may be charged a fee for the new issuance.
  9. If you fear your SSN has gotten into the wrong hands, take the following steps to reduce the risk of new accounts being opened in your name:
    • Place a 90-day fraud alert on your credit reports by calling one of the three credit bureaus: TransUnion (800) 680-7289; Equifax (888) 766-0008; Experian (888) 397-3742. Then renew the fraud alert every 90 days.
    • Monitor your credit reports very closely. Placing the fraud alert allows you to order a free credit report within 90 days.
    • If you have evidence of actual or attempted identity theft, additional steps are needed, such as notifying the police and the Federal Trade Commission and establishing a seven-year fraud alert. See our Fact Sheet 17(a) "Identity Theft: What to Do if It Happens to You,"
  10. Despite recommendations by the Social Security Administration's Inspector General, the SSN continues to be displayed on Medicare cards issued to millions of senior citizens. ( To change this practice, you should complain to your Congressional representative and to your U.S. Senators, and demand that they pass laws to prohibit the display of your SSN on Medicare cards.
  11. Avoid sharing your birthday, age, or place of birth on the Internet. A research study by Carnegie Mellon University found that Social Security numbers can be predicted based on publicly-available information, including your birthday, age and place of birth. The Social Security Administration began assigning randomized number series on June 25, 2011. Unfortunately, the more predictable Social Security numbers will remain in effect for individuals born before June 25, 2011.

How your personal information is misused after it's been stolen

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