Protecting Social Security numbers online is a futile exercise


I once worked for a retail company in Los Angeles and anytime a person clocked in and out, the printed time slip had the social security printed at the top.  I reported it and eventually they disappeared from the printed report.  The underlying assumption at that time was the number had no value.  Anyone could know anybody's social security and it really amounted to nothing.  Today, the world has changed a lot but only a little in some areas.  The social security number is still worthless except on occasion and for the time being SS number is likely to cause more problems than do any good to the owner.  

News Tuesday that Social Security numbers may not be as random nor secure as believed is just one more security problem the ubiquitous identification number faces.

Last fall, the Government Accountability Office found that Social Security numbers are under attack and your personal records are more exposed than you’d like to think. At least that seems to be the observation in a frightening study that says among other things that 85% of large counties and 41% of small counties in the U.S. make records that may contain SSNs generally available in bulk or online.

On top of that, many record-keepers do not or cannot restrict the types of entities that can obtain public records and may not know how records are being used. Finish that observation off with the notion that some businesses are sending records with SSNs offshore, primarily to India and the Philippines, even though not much is known about how such data are protected overseas.

The dour Web-based GAO study looked at 247 counties across the U.S. responsible for recording documents — including the 97 largest counties by population and a random sample of 150 of the remaining counties. Records could include birth, death, and marriage records; criminal and civil court case files; and records that reflect property ownership, such as property liens. Some records contain personally identifiable information, such as SSNs, dates of birth, and credit card or bank account numbers.

Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Vermont were not included in the study because the GAO said individual counties don’t collect personal data in those states.

So, if you have ever wondered how identity theft can be the number one consumer fraud problem seven years running, costing consumers more than $1.2 billion in 2007 alone, and showing no signs of letting up, perhaps we need only look to the results of studies such as this.

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