April 19, 2006

ID Theft

About 70 years ago, Congress passed the Social Security Act. At that point it only authorized the creation of a record-keeping scheme and not the social security numbers. The Treasury Department decided otherwise and developed the numbering system to create and track those records. Bad decision.

Then in 1943, during World War II, President Roosevelt mandated that all federal agencies use the SSN "exclusively" to identify U.S. citizens. The IRS also began to use it as a tax ID number by the 1960s. Soon thereafter, divulging your SSN became necessary to buy Treasury bonds, receive Medicare benefits, or even joining the armed forces. By 1972 SSNs were assigned to school children and foreign workers with visas, and a 1983 law required all banks to obtain SSNs for savings accounts.

This is exactly why the SSN has become so invaluable for ID thieves. The SSN was never intended as a password, simply because it lacks the ability for it to be changed, but companies and government agencies use it that way, regardless. Getting a hold of someone's SSN can permit an ID thief to drain the victim's bank accounts and run up their credit cards. Sounds good, right?

Many of the illegal aliens in this country right now are using someone else's SSN, without the victim ever knowing. The problem is, in most cases, that victim could never even look into it, even if they wanted to. The reason is that, as unbelievable as it sounds, consumers are only allowed to view their own credit information if their SSN matches to their own name. If a criminal was to steal another person's SSN but to use a fake name, or even the criminal's real name in some cases, there is no way the original number holder could ever find out. This is called "SSN-only ID Theft". Of course, corporations and businesses have special agreements with the credit bureaus that let them check any given SSN to any names that might be associated with it. They can use special systems, with names like Social Search, to cross-reference SSNs with names at will. The reasoning? The credit bureaus basically claim privacy concerns, which to me amounts to a bunch of horseshit. In the day and age of 128-bit encryption, there could be a way, albeit inconvenient and lengthy, for a real person to prove to these agencies that they own a given SSN. The problem comes when these criminals leave unpaid debts with your SSN, guess who the creditors come after? You got it! Seems that it is too much of a hassle for the creditors to let you know when your number is being stolen at the time, but it's just part of the job when they come to take your money for someone else's crime. Bastards.

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