Keep your Social Security number as secure as possible

It has not only my picture, but also my Social Security number, my date of birth, my
employer and, of course, my name. Should my badge fall into the wrong hands, I could lose
my savings, my credit rating, my house and even my job. If I wanted to harm someone, I'd
rather have his ID badge, loaded with such personal data, than know his greatest, darkest

Banks and credit card firms increasingly use Social Security account numbers for
identification and record-keeping. The Social Security number is a common index for
linking databases. Armed with your Social Security number, someone can assume your
identity and manipulate your bank accounts, credit services, driving history, creditors
and so on.

Since 1961, IRS has required Social Security numbers as taxpayer IDs. So all banking,
stock, bond, employment, property and other financial transactions are reported to IRS.

Despite admonitions from the Social Security Administration, most employers use the
Social Security number as a convenient employee identification number on badges, parking
permits, official documents and employee lists. Such displays jeopardize the financial and
personal security of employees.

The Privacy Act of 1974 requires all government agencies--federal, state and
local--asking for Social Security account numbers to include a disclosure statement
explaining if and why you are required to give your number. The disclosure covers how the
Social Security number will be used and the consequences of declining to provide it.

If a government agency asks for your Social Security number and does not include a
disclosure statement on the form, privacy advocates advise you to object.

Although the law requires you to supply the Social Security number only for tax
filings, Medicare and other federal programs, businesses often ask for these numbers. They
may even refuse you service if you don't disclose it. Once they are armed with this
crucial key into your life, there are few legal restrictions on what they can do with it.

The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, an information service operated by the University of
San Diego Law School with support from a California state agency, suggests steps to
protect your Social Security number. Each offers you the opportunity to explain how you
could become a victim of fraud if someone were to get your Social Security number.

Walter R. Houser, who has more than two decades of experience in federal
information management, is webmaster for a Cabinet agency. His own Web home page is at http://www.//


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