FAQs on SSNs and ID Theft


We support reforms to the financial marketplace that protect consumers from unscrupulous banks and lenders.

By Consumers Union on Monday, September 15th, 2003

FAQs on SSNs and ID Theft

Q: Why is it a risk to have my Social Security number in my wallet or on my mail?
A: Having your Social Security number in your wallet or on your postal mail puts you at a much higher risk of identity theft. Lost or stolen wallets or mail with personally identifiable information in them, like Social Security numbers, names and addresses, can be used by criminals to commit fraud or open new accounts using your identity. For instance, a criminal with access to your name and Social Security number may sign up for a new cell phone or a new credit card in your name, or may use your personal information to make withdrawals on your already existing accounts. Identity thieves in other kinds of legal trouble may even give your name and Social Security number to the police, putting you in danger of an arrest.

Q: How likely is it that my identity will be stolen?
A: According to the Federal Trade Commission, over eight million Americans were victimized by identity theft in 2006.

Q: How can I protect myself from having my identity stolen and what do I do if I suspect that someone is using my identity?
A: Click here for information about avoiding ID theft and what to do if you become a victim.

Q: What will replace my Social Security number on my ID cards?
A: Many companies now generate random ID numbers that appear on your identity cards or on your mailings. These numbers can be used by the issuing company to find your name and history with that company, but they cannot be used by identity thieves to steal your accounts or credit history.

Q: Don’t some companies, like my health insurance company, need to know my Social Security number?
A: Yes, some companies, including your health insurance company, will ask for and do need your Social Security number. However, many of these companies have phased out using Social Security numbers on any public or semi-public documents, like mail or ID cards, replacing the SSN with a randomly generated unique ID number. If your health insurance company or another company issues you an ID card with your SSN on it, or sends you mail that includes your SSN, ask that company to assign you a unique ID that cannot be used to commit identity theft. You can also use this site to urge these companies to provide unique IDs for all consumers.

Q: What do companies say about replacing Social Security numbers (SSNs) with unique identifiers?
A: Many companies that once issued cards or sent mail with Social Security numbers have already started or even completed the process of phasing out SSNs. Some of those companies that have recently phased out SSNs, however, have not replaced their members’ ID cards. Instead, they only give cards with unique IDs to new customers or to customers who change their contracts. Some companies claim that it would be too costly to replace everyone’s card, but other large companies, like the health insurance company Kaiser Foundation Health Plans, automatically replaced everyone’s card when the company switched to using unique ID numbers. If your ID card has your SSN on it, call and ask the company that issued it if they have started to phase out SSNs. If they have, ask them for a new card, and pressure them to replace the old cards for everyone, not just the new customers or the customers who change healthcare plans.

Prepared: December 2007
Consumers Union Financial Services Campaign

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