Social Security numbers were first handed out in 1936 as a way to keep track of earnings history. They were not meant to be a source of identification. It used to say that right on the Social Security cards. To date, more than 450,000,000 nine-digit combinations have been issued; there are about 1 billion combinations, so no need as of yet for any to be recycled. Do you know what happens to your SS number when you die? It's enough to know that it outlives you.
This pre-WWII relic, nine digits — no letters or symbols — is the primary target of hackers for obvious reason. Everything about us — credit history, tax filings, insurance applications, Medicare/Medicaid applications, credit applications, college admissions applications, hospital admissions, assisted-living facility admissions, DMV, etc. — is attached to your Social Security number. And the worst part? We're stuck with the same nine-digit number for life. It is very difficult to change your number, and only by meeting very strict, onerous guidelines put out by the Social Security Administration can it be done. According to Consumer Reports, in 2014 only 249 Americans got their Social Security number changed.
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The recent Equifax hack early this month is a case in point. 143 million people had their Social Security numbers, along with other private data, stolen. Did you visit www.equifaxsecurity2017.com to see if your private info was stolen? I did, and I'm on the list, which really didn't surprise me at all. Even if you did check, thieves could save your info for years and use it down the road when you think the Equifax hack is old news. And if you were spared the Equifax hack and think your Social Security number is secret, think again.
Among reasons given why Social Security numbers can't be changed:
- An individual's entire credit history is attached to it.
- It won't be updated automatically at all government agencies.
- Even if you could get a new one, the old one will still be active and used for your credit and IRS history.
Basically, we're stuck with it.