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Social Security Numbers - Use & Abuse

by Carl P. Brown

What is the most critical, essential, required piece of data that you possess-without which you cannot function in our society! It is the only identification unique to each individual. It has become so vital that almost everyone knows it as well as their name. It is your very own social security number. Simple and taken for granted, without this nine digit code you could not open a bank account, apply for a loan, complete an employment application, attend a school or college, or even obtain a drivers license.

As its importance in our society has grown so has the misuse and abuse of this onetime "not for identification purposes" identifier. Not so long ago if a person was asked his "Social Security Number" they would most probably dig into a wallet or purse to produce the number on a little card. Now most people can rattle it off as easily as their telephone number. Because it is required for so many transactions, it can also show who you are, what you do, what you have, and what you can afford. It is the primary piece of data in any financial or tax situation.

Because of its importance, social security number fraud has become America's basic piece of false information necessary to commit crimes against financial institutions.

Banking fraud investigators have long known the importance of multiple phony social security numbers in the commission of bank crimes. "Fraud artists change social security numbers like you and I change socks," states Daniel E. Brooker, President of the National Fraud Investigation Center, Incorporated. Brooker's firm, that specializes in bank fraud investigations, has developed a computerized intelligence system on known fraud perpetrators, that utilizes the social security number(s) as a key identifier. "We have seen some criminals use as many as five or six different social security numbers in their careers," remarks Brooker.

"Bank and insurance fraud cost the public billions upon billions of dollars each year. They are the two leading fraud industries in our society."

"However," adds Brooker, "social security number fraud is not just limited to the financial industry. We have it in government, employment, education, immigration and the corporate community."

Individuals need to protect their social security number. It should be used as discreetly as a bank card's personal identification number, and provided only when requested and necessary.

After all, it has become as valuable as your own name.

Take, for example, a person who has a bad credit history. In applying for a loan, a credit report could be ordered. The report would be verified primarily by the social security number and reveal a bad credit history, probably resulting in denial of the loan. Some schemers and manipulators have found a simple solution-a fraudulently obtained, bogus, or stolen social security number.

That question is not as silly as you might think. There are quite a few people walking around with numerous social security numbers, some of which have been obtained through the official process. There are, most probably, other people with the same name, same date of birth and other identifiers such as yours. Receiving applications for a social security number under the same name is fairly common. Birth certificates are required to be produced, but this is a minor inconvenience to a crook. Forged documents are used; false names, dates of birth, phony papers are not uncommon.

Some individuals have even researched old newspapers for names of people who were born around their own birthday and who died as infants. They then secured a copy of the birth certificate for the purpose of obtaining a social security number and building a new financial identity.

Phony or counterfeit cards are available for a fee, from unscrupulous sources. Often these are sold to illegal aliens for use in finding jobs. Numbers are stolen in order to apply for credit cards, loans and other purposes, using the criminal's address but the legitimate person's name and good credit history. Some individuals just make up numbers or transpose digits in their own number, to avoid or confuse facts and the situation. The ability to track or verify such numbers, is limited.

There have been social security numbers issued since the social security act was passed in 1935. In 1978 the social security administration instituted tighter controls and rules on applicant data and numbers issuance. In 1983 the administration began issuing "counterfeit-resistant" cards. (But would you know a genuine card from a fake?).

A trained investigator can tell if the numbers on a card are possible or logical. The table on the preceding page can be used as part of the verification procedure, as it shows the state where the number was issued.

Codes by their dates of issuance and geographical assignments, give investigators a means, through dates of birth and other identifiers, of determining the probable authenticity of issuance. However this does not eliminate the possibility of a fraudulently obtained number, or a stolen number.

Progressive and sophisticated investigations firms have realized what a critical element the social security number is in frauds.

"Social security number fraud is the most common unrecognized fraud today," states Norman Willox, the President and CEO of Willox, Kerins and Associates. "Unfortunately it is the springboard for the commission of numerous other crimes and deceptions. It is utilized in some form or fashion in approximately 40% of all our fraud investigations. It has become the common denominator in fraud." "An individual can be collecting workman's compensation benefits from one source," states James Kerins, III, the firm's managing partner, "while working a job under another social security number." Kerins further remarks, "The banking and business community as well as the public needs to become educated and develop awareness of this rapidly growing problem."

Willox has instituted a program for financial institutions to check claims against social security number data to determine quickly if a person could be committing a fraud. "It is a very cost-effective initial tool that can be used prior to much costlier forms of investigation," states Kerins.

Carl P. Brown is a member of Willox, Kerins & Associates, a Philadelphia based fraud investigations firm.

Index of Social Security Numbers by Number Series
001-003 New Hampshire
004-007 Maine
008-009 Vermont
010-034 Massachusetts
035-039 Rhode Island
040-049 Connecticut
050-134 New York
135-158 New Jersey
159-211 Pennsylvania
212-220 Maryland
221-222 Delaware
223-231 Virginia
232-236 West Virginia
237-246 North Carolina (also 232)

247-251 South Carolina
252-260 Georgia
261-267 Florida (also 589-595)
268-302 Ohio
303-317 Indiana
318-361 Illinois
362-386 Michigan
387-399 Wisconsin
400-407 Kentucky
408-415 Tennessee
416-424 Alabama
425-428 Mississippi (also 587, 588 is designated)
429-432 Arkansas
433-439 Louisiana
440-448 Oklahoma
449-467 Texas
468-477 Minnesota
478-485 Iowa
486-500 Missouri
501-502 North Dakota
503-504 South Dakota
505-508 Nebraska
509-515 Kansas
516-517 Montana
518-519 Idaho
520 Wyoming
521-524 Colorado
525 New Mexico (also 526, 585)
526-527 Arizona (600-601 are designated)
528-529 Utah
530 Nevada
531-539 Washington
540-544 Oregon
545-573 California (602-626 are designated)
574 Alaska
575-576 Hawaii
577-579 Dist. of Columbia
580 Virgin Islands
580-584 Puerto Rico
586 Guam, Am. Samoa, Pacific Territories
700-728 Railroad Retirement

Copyright © 1990 Bankers' Hotline. Originally appeared in Bankers' Hotline, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1/90

First published on 01/01/1990

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