When social security numbers (SSNs) were first issued in 1936, the government specified that they were solely to be used for the purpose of calculating social security benefits. Today SSNs are the number one identifier for US citizens.
As early as the 1970s, SSNs were even printed on a driver’s license; but, today, they are used in employee files, medical records, and even University ID cards—despite the growing number of identity thefts that directly relate to SSN vulnerability.
Today, personal privacy is an important issue and as a result of their extended use, social security numbers are at the top of the list of things you want to keep safe as it is the “key” to much personal information.
The government is taking measures to curtail the use and the display of SSN unnecessarily, such as on military ID cards; so, if you want to know how to obtain someone’s social security number… well… there is no “database” or any government organization that will give out an individual’s social security number.
Now saying this, it is possible that if you are doing a public records search on an individual, that their SSN might appear on a document, but remember this will hopefully not happen in the future, as the government is taking steps to redact SSN from records.
The GOA, or U.S. Government Accounting Office (this is the investigative arm of Congress) first reported in 2006, on the “potential for identity theft posed by SSN’s included in public records.” Clearly though, it was a problem before then.
The “GAO has estimated that 85 percent of the largest, most populated counties surveyed make records that may contain SSNs available in bulk sales or online. Most often SSNs appear in state and local court files and local property ownership records.” Not particularly good news for anyone who’s interested in staying super private.
Due to the threat of identity theft using social security numbers many states are now trying to limit the use of SSNs in public records and some jurisdictions are also making an effort to “redact” SSNs from public records but, this is timely and costly.
If you are performing a background check on someone who lived within the state of WA, you will likely already have the number on the application. But in the event it is unavailable, you can verify information through the Social Security Administration (SSA). This option is available for employers and other “third party submitters” to use.
Pocket Guide to SSN System
- You must register with the SSA; when your register, you must put in personal information about yourself, such as your address and your own social security number. They will also ask you about your employer, the EIN or “employer identification number,” the company name and phone number.
- Once the SSA has verified your identity, they will give you a user ID.
- Once that is done, you return to the login page and after logging in, you will “select, ‘Request Access and Activation Code.’” This code is first sent to your employer who then gives it to you to verify the desired SSNs.
One way that you may be able to find out someone’s social security number legally in Washington State and anywhere actually, is if that person is deceased. The Washington State digital archives site has a social security death index which you can search by name and year of death to find the SSN. After a death is reported to the SSA, they release the SSN to the public to prevent identity theft.
On the website for the Washington state office of the Attorney General, under “consumer alerts and events,” I found an interesting blog titled, “Pst, I bet I can figure out your Social Security number.” They write that “Carnegie Mellon researchers recently announced that they’ve developed an algorithm that can predict, with alarming accuracy, a person’s Social Security number. A professor and his student used publicly available information, such names, birth dates and places of birth, found on social networking sites, data brokers and other online tools.” This seems a little like going way out of your way to attain someone’s SSN as it is never totally accurate. A spokesman for the SSA has said that “the public should not be alarmed by this report because there is no foolproof method for predicting a person’s Social Security Number.” And supposedly, the government has come up with a new way of assigning SSN that is more random.
When performing a background check and obtaining a Social Security number from a subject who has lived in the state of Washington, one can see that it is not possible to request a social security number from a government organization and expect to get it. A little footwork will be required, though if you were still out of options, it may be possible to find one in a public record. If you are authorized, you may verify through the SSA but as I have mentioned before, you are not likely to Google some ones name and discover it floating about.
If you ask me, I would say leave it to the professionals.
Categories: Social Security Numbers