SSA should cross-verify numbers across databases to protect against theft, IG says

The Social Security Administration should cross-verify Social Security numbers across government and private databases to identify and fix inaccuracies. That was one of several recommendations proposed yesterday to lawmakers to protect the integrity of a person's Social Security number.

'Cross-verification can combat and limit the spread of false identification and SSN misuse,' said Patrick O'Carroll Jr., acting inspector general for the agency.

Because Social Security numbers are considered a national identifier, it is a valuable commodity for lawbreakers, O'Carroll told the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security. The numbers are valuable tools for identity theft and fraud and for terrorists attempting to enter the United States. About 10 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2003, the Federal Trade Commission has reported.

The Social Security Administration should also provide the same SSN cross-verification capabilities to law enforcement that are granted to employers, giving them access to the same data already available to federal, state and local governments and the financial sector, O'Carroll said

But Congress would have to pass legislation to require cross-verification of identification data between government, financial and commercial holders of records and SSA on a recurring basis, he said. 'The technology to accomplish these data matches and verifications exists now,' he said.

O'Carroll also suggested these ways to protect the numbers:

  • Limit their public availability as much as possible without unduly limiting commerce

  • Prohibit the sale of SSNs and their display on public records, and limit their use in transactions

  • Enact strong enforcement and stiffer penalties to discourage misuse

  • Work with state agencies to incorporate additional controls in SSA's Enumeration-at-Birth program, such as periodically reconciling the number of SSNs assigned through the program to the number of births reported by hospitals.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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