When Social Security was initially introduced as part of the New Deal in the 1930s, it was not meant to serve any purpose beyond tracking an individual’s earnings and determining their Social Security benefits. However, the unique numbers Social Security provided to every citizen were soon used as a means of verifying one’s identity. Recently, President Donald Trump’s administration considered implementing a new system to replace Social Security numbers because they represent one of the most valuable pieces of information for identity thieves to acquire. The former CEO of Equifax, Richard Smith, agreed with the abolishment of Social Security numbers as unique identifiers.
Equifax, one of the three major consumer credit reporting agencies, recently experienced a massive data breach that spurred the federal government to reconsider how to ensure citizens’ personal security.
Prior to this, in 2006, the Department of Justice established an Identity Theft Task Force, which was meant to enable the federal government to take proper precautionary and counteractive actions to combat identity theft.
Social Security numbers are used to identify consumers primarily in personal banking, credit history checks and other important transactions.
Companies who require Social Security numbers for identification purposes are dependent on a vulnerable, flawed system. Information thieves have found it easier than ever to steal people’s personal information and impersonate them. One tactic companies use to prevent identity thieves from impersonation is to ask for a piece of identifying information along with the Social Security number, such as a date of birth or security answer. However, with the rise of social media, information like this is readily available.
Even though the Equifax information breach is not the largest in U.S. history, it may well be one of the most detrimental, affecting approximately 140 million Americans as well as people in the United Kingdom and Canada.
The company held information on individuals that included names, birth dates, addresses, driver’s license numbers, some credit card information, some dispute documents and Social Security numbers, according to Smith.
Since then, Equifax has conducted investigations and taken measures to improve the situation. For individuals who may have been affected by the information breach, Equifax set up a website, www.equifaxsecurity2017.com, where they can check if their information has been compromised. In addition to that, the company is also offering identity theft insurance at no cost to anyone who has been victimized.
There is no effortless way to solve this issue. Abolishing Social Security numbers without carefully determining what will replace them will lead to unnecessary costs and inconvenience for government agencies, companies and individuals. If a replacement is decided upon, it must be secure, robust and long-term.
Consumers should take a preventative approach and try to secure their information, so that it is not fraudulently used by someone else. For example, if someone else has access to a person’s banking information, they can cause a great amount of harm to that person’s identity. Those affected by identity theft usually suffer for years trying to resolve issues and get back to living regular lives. However, most people do not take their identity security seriously enough. Treating identity security seriously is not only an intelligent decision, but can give consumers peace of mind in the event of another information breach.
There are a number of ways in which one can protect their identity. The easiest method is to simply not give Social Security numbers and personal information to anyone without consideration.
There are only a few places or organizations that should be trusted with personal information, such as government agencies, banks, insurance companies, credit reporting agencies and companies that perform transactions that need to be disclosed to the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS stresses this advice on their website.
If one thinks that their identity has already been stolen, it can be reported on www.identitytheft.gov. Another step one can take toward the protection of one’s identity is visiting the official Social Security website and creating a My Social Security account, as well as taking advantage of their free identity theft insurance. An MSS account allows a person to block any electronic access to their personal information. This way, only the true account holder can see what changes, if any, are made to their personal information. Registering for the free identity theft insurance is another means of protecting oneself. Most people are negligent in ensuring the security of their private information because they believe that identify theft will never affect them.
However, identity theft is prevalent and can afflict anyone when they least expect it. It is best for consumers to exercise caution and attempt to secure their private information.