SSA Putting Millions of Americans at Risk

By: Elizabeth Harrington
The Washington Free Beacon

The Social Security Administration puts millions of Americans at risk for identity theft by putting their full Social Security Numbers on letters sent in the mail.

The agency’s inspector general released an audit this week warning the government that by sending hundreds of millions of letters containing individual’s Social Security Numbers it puts them at risk for identity theft.

“According to [the Social Security Administration] SSA, in 2015, it mailed about 233 million notices that included individuals’ full SSN,” the inspector general said. “We recognize SSA’s efforts can never eliminate the potential that dishonest individuals may inappropriately acquire and misuse SSNs. However, our audit and investigative work have shown that the more SSNs are unnecessarily used, the higher the probability that they could be used inappropriately.”

“The security of beneficiaries’ [Personally Identifiable Information] PII should be foremost, and as a Federal agency and public servant, we believe SSA should be in the forefront of establishing policy and practice by limiting SSN use and disclosure,” the audit said.

Sixty-six percent of the 352 million notices the agency sent out last year contained Americans’ full Social Security Numbers, and the government said it has no idea how many never made it to the correct address.“While it is unknown how many of the intended addressees received these notices, our audit work has shown that the addresses in SSA’s records can be inaccurate,” the inspector general said
“We asked SSA whether it maintained any estimates on the number of mailings that were returned as undeliverable. SSA stated that it did not have any Agency-level number on undeliverable mail,” they said. “SSA could not provide us an estimate of the number of notices with SSNs it mails annually that do not reach the intended recipients and are not returned to SSA.”

The inspector general warned that notices sent to the wrong address can increase identify theft, as it can give strangers access to vital personal information. “Notices intercepted by unintended recipients could provide SSA beneficiaries’ names, addresses, and SSNs to individuals other than the numberholders,” they said.

Auditors said they do not currently have documented proof of identity theft that has occurred as a result of agency letters going to the wrong address, though the agency acknowledged “there is a risk of identity theft anytime it sends correspondence that contains PII.”

The inspector general said identity theft is “one of the fastest-growing crimes” in the country.”

“With a stolen SSN, identity thieves can commit any number of financial crimes in the victim’s name or steal money from the victim,” the audit said. “If the victim is a senior citizen, the thief could even target their Social Security benefits.”

“SSA acknowledges that identity thieves may obtain another’s personal information by stealing their mail or rummaging through their trash,” the inspector general concluded. “It is, therefore, troubling that SSA continues including the full SSN on the majority of its mailings.”

Can I change my Social Security number?

Can I change my Social Security number?

We can assign a different number only if:

  • Sequential numbers assigned to members of the same family are causing problems;
  • More than one person is assigned or using the same number;
  • A victim of identity theft continues to be disadvantaged by using the original number;
  • There is a situation of harassment, abuse or life endangerment; or
  • An individual has religious or cultural objections to certain numbers or digits in the original number. (We require written documentation in support of the objection from a religious group with which the number holder has an established relationship.)

When we assign a different Social Security number, we do not destroy the original number. We cross-refer the new number with the original number to make sure the person receives credit for all earnings under both numbers.

People who want to ask for a new Social Security number must:

  • Apply in person at a Social Security office;
  • Complete an application;
  • Provide a statement explaining the reasons for needing a new number;
  • Provide current, credible, third-party evidence documenting the reasons for needing a new number; and
  • Provide original documents establishing:
    • U.S. citizenship or work-authorized immigration status;
    • Age;
    • Identity; and
    • Evidence of a legal name change, if appropriate.

For more information about changing your Social Security number in domestic violence cases, see New Numbers For Domestic Violence Victims.

To request a different Social Security number, contact your local Social Security office for an in-person appointment.

Identity theft is the fastest growing consumer crime in the United States.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, approximately 9.3 million individuals are victimized by the crime every year, so it’s no wonder that more and more people are turning to ID theft protection services to safeguard their identities. But consumers aren’t the only ones at risk. Any size business, whether a giant corporation or a small business, must be vigilant to protect themselves from identity theft.
There are two types of services in the market today that attempt to alleviate some of identity fraud’s expenses to deal with the aftermath of identity theft, but it does nothing to prevent it. Even the National Association of Insurance Commissioners states that identity theft insurance “cannot protect you from becoming a victim of identity theft and does not cover direct monetary losses incurred as a result of identity theft.”
ID Theft protection services, on the other hand, offer consumers, corporations, and small businesses proactive protection and recovery service. There are many competing companies out there, and not all of them offer the same level of service.
When evaluating ID theft protection services, look for these features:
A 24/7 hotline to call if you suspect you have been a victim of ID theft.
Expedient delivery of an ID Theft Resolution Kit that includes forms to be submitted to the IRS, DMV, Social Security Administration, and the three credit reporting agencies. An identity theft affidavit and forms specific to the type of ID theft should also be included.
Assistance in reporting the identity theft to your local authorities and creditors, requesting that creditors cancel existing cards and issue new ones, and placing a security freeze on your credit records. Be sure the company will obtain 7 year credit freezes for you.
Updates whenever there is activity on the case, including follow-up with creditors to ensure that they properly repair your accounts.
Recovery specialists, preferably with law enforcement experience, who have the expertise and connections to launch a full investigation into the identity theft, reverse the damage, and bring the identity thieves to justice if there is an opportunity to do so.
Return your identity to pre-theft status, reducing the likelihood of a member’s identity being compromised.
While an ID theft protection service is an effective way to safeguard against identity theft, consumers and companies should also use common sense to shield their identities as well, such as:
Keep copies of credit card information in a safe place
Obtain their credit reports from the three major credit bureaus once a year from each
Implement credit freezes
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Linda Vincent, R.N., P.I., is an identity theft and healthcare fraud prevention expert specializing in medical consulting and investigations. She teaches corporations, professional practices, and consumers how to prevent identity theft and healthcare fraud. Visit www.TheIdentityAdvocate.com.