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Protecting Your Social Security Number

Many government agencies, including the U.S. Army, have dropped the social security number as an identification number.

| BY Kent McDill

Today, babies are issued social security numbers, but it is not until they begin looking for jobs or colleges that they are asked for the number. It is then that they realize they have grown up and approaching adulthood.

In the United States, your social security number is your official, authoritative identity number, and as such, it is the target of almost every identity theft ring or culprit out there. Protecting those 10 digits are the easiest way to prevent being a victim of identity theft.

Steve Weisman, author of Identity Theft Alert, told Millionaire Corner some secrets regarding your social security number, and the best ways to keep it out of the hands of nefarious characters.

“One of the most important keys to identity theft is your social security number,’’ Weisman said. “If I have it, I can take over your life. So you want to limit its exposure as much as possible.”

But with the advent of online commerce, your social security number is requested with almost every purchase. What is a shopper to do?

“There are places that ask for it that don’t need it,’’ Weisman said. “In those situations, I ask if I can give them my driver’s license instead. The General Accountability Office of the U.S. Government says don’t use your social security number.

“I’m advising people not to use it, and most of the time, if you ask not to use it, you can give them something else,’’ he said. “The problem is the law says you don’t have to provide this, but the law does not say they have to do business with you if you don’t. Congress needs to do a better job to address this.”

Weisman noted that many colleges still use the social security number as a way to post grades.

“That is a perfect storm for identity theft, and many colleges have been hacked in recent years,’’ Weisman said. “When they get hacked, the hacking involves a large number of people – parents, alumni, students. And colleges also take social security numbers with every application, and keep them even when the student does not attend that college. “

One of the problems with social security numbers for people born in the 20th century is that those numbers are not random.

“The first two sets of numbers relate to when you were born and where you were born,’’ Weisman said. “A good identity thief can get on line and find out other information by putting those two bits of information together with a reasonable degree of accuracy.”

Weisman said that practice ended near the turn of the century so that the numbers are more random now.

Weisman said there was a time when he suggested simply giving an incorrect social security number, since in most cases that number is not used by the retailer unless you are signing up for a credit card. He said the same goes for the birth date question. Weisman said as long as you remember what date you give a retailer, you do not need to give your actual birthdate, and probably shouldn’t.

“You have to give the correct numbers to government agencies like the IRS,’’ he said. “But you don’t have to give it to all government agencies, and you don’t want to give any personal information out online if you don’t need to.”



About the Author

Kent McDill

Kent McDill is a staff writer for Millionaire Corner. McDill spent 30 years as a sports writer, working for United Press International and the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. From 1988-1999, he covered the Chicago Bulls for the Daily Herald, traveling with them every day through the nine-month season. He also covered the Bulls for UPI from 1985-88, and currently covers the team for He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die’, published by Triumph Books. In August 2013, his new book “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die” gets published.

In 2008, he resigned from the Herald and became a freelance writer. The Herald hired him to write business features and speeches for the Daily Herald Business Conferences and Awards presentations.

McDill also writes a monthly parenting column for the Herald’s Suburban Parent magazine.

McDill is the father of four children, and an active fan of soccer, Jimmy  Buffett and all things Disney.