Most of us have become accustomed to giving out the last four digits of our Social Security numbers. But this customary request is becoming increasingly problematic, and two Rhode Island lawmakers are responding by pushing legislation to stop businesses from asking for the last four digits of customers’ Social Security numbers.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a reliable method for predicting Social Security numbers, including the first five digits, using information from social networking sites, data brokers, voter registration lists, online white pages, and the publicly available Social Security Administration’s Death Master File. This, of course, makes the last four digits vulnerable.
NBC 10 Rhode Island reports, “The lawmakers say identity thieves can often determine an entire Social Security number from just a few digits. They called the bill ‘a seemingly small, but vitally important way for government to further protect its citizens from the financial and emotional devastation of identity theft.’”
The nine-digit Social Security number is composed of three parts. The first set of three digits is the Area Number. The second set of two digits is the Group Number. The final set of four digits is the Serial Number.
The Area Number is assigned by geographical region. Prior to 1972, when cards were issued in local Social Security offices around the country, the Area Number represented the State in which the card was issued, but not necessarily the applicant’s state of residence.
The Group Number ranges from 01 to 99, but numbers are not assigned in consecutive order. For administrative reasons, odd numbers from 01 through 09 are issued first, followed by even numbers from 10 through 98.
Serial Numbers run consecutively from 0001 through 9999.
This numbering scheme was designed in 1936, before the existence of computers, primarily for the purpose of tracking Social Security benefits. It was not designed to be used as a national identification number, as it arguably is used today. And once a criminal gets your Social Security number, he has extensive access to your identity.
To avoid becoming an identity theft victim, consider subscribing to an identity theft protection service that offers proactive identity surveillance, lost wallet protection, and alerts when suspicious activity is detected on your accounts.
For additional tips, visit CounterIdentityTheft.com.
Robert Siciliano is a McAfee consultant and identity theft expert. See him discuss Social Security numbers as national identification on Fox News.