Everyone’s got a Social Security number. In fact, if you were born after 1991, you’ve had one from the moment you were born. Everyone has one, and they’re practically an ID number. Nothing else is nearly as universal; not everyone has a driver’s license, a school ID, or any other type of government-issued identification. The social security number is as close as America has to a national ID card.
But the Social Security number was never supposed to be that way. It’s just a number; the card itself doesn’t have a picture, any built-in security., or anything other than that 9-digit code and your name. And that number isn’t special; in fact, you could probably make a chart to create other Social Security numbers just by knowing what the numbers mean. They aren’t random. The Social Security number is split up into three parts, like this:
The first part is a geographic area; it’s a location number, based on where you were born. The second part is a pair that indicates the year you were born, and ticks up every year. The last part just ticks up by one for every person who has the same first one parts. So basically, you could Google all of this information and figure out the Social Security number of a person based on their location and year of birth—with social media, that information is not hard to come by. Or, you could just add one to the last section of your Social Security number and you’ve got another valid social security number. In fact, that number would be pretty much a descriptor of you, so you could pass that off as your own.
Other card numbers have built-in security: have certain digits add up to other digits so that a card is harder to fake, or patterns of prime and non-prime numbers that mean you can’t obviously fake a number. That’s not true of the Social Security number, and the Social Security number might just be the most important number to any American.
But that’s not the worst of it. The scariest part is that your Social Security number might already be out there. Anyone who followed the Equifax breach this summer would know that some 143 million American people had their Social Security numbers released. This is potentially devastating for any and all Americans: if an identity thief wanted to take your identity, they’ve now got a plethora of ways to obtain your Social Security number.
It’s time for America to move on from the Social Security number. It was never supposed to be an ID number (older Social Security cards used to print “do not use for identification” right on them!), and it’s way too easy to fake, break, or simply make it up. We need a more secure way to verify who we are, and we need one fast—we can never tell if another breach is coming, but once it comes, lives will be ruined.
Read up on Social Security’s history, the Equifax breach, and why the Social Security number is not an ID number here: