What’s in a Social Security Number? A lot more than 9 digits.

What's in a Social Security Number? A lot  more than 9 digits.
  By Jeff  Amster, Managing Vice President and Head of  Emerging Segments at Capital One

Last spring, my wife and  I welcomed our second daughter. She arrived 11 days early, weighed just over 7 pounds,  and like her sister, has beautiful blue eyes. Our hospital stay was a blur, as  it is for most parents, with lots to take care of, including an application for  our daughter's Social Security number. When her Social Security card arrived a  few weeks later, it struck me that this series of nine numbers will be with her  for the rest of her life. From her taxes, to her driver's license, and even her  credit history, her Social Security number (SSN) will widely be used as an  identifier to gather information about her. Social Security numbers have come a  long way in its 82-year history. Today your SSN serves as a sort of national ID  for U.S. citizens and residents—but it wasn't always that way.

  A Short History of the Social Security Number
  The Social Security  number was created in 1935 solely as a way to track citizens' work histories  and salaries to determine their Social Security benefit entitlement.1  When the Social Security Board decided to use  numbers to implement the tracking system, it was controversial at the time,  because the U.S. government had never issued individual numbers like this.
  It all started with #1
  The first SSN, 055-09-0001, was given to a New York resident by  the name of John D. Sweeney, Jr. in 1936.2  Within the first 8 months of registration, the government issued SSNs to 35  million workers, which was a huge administrative undertaking.1 And  it wasn't all smooth sailing. Many individuals received multiple SSNs, and  there was a lack of understanding around the SSN. Some people thought you  needed a new number every time you got a new job or the more SSNs you had, the  better.
  Deciphering the 9 Digits
  Since the creation of the  SSN, some 450 million combinations of those nine numbers have been issued. If your  SSN was issued prior to 2011, those nine digits actually have a meaning. The  first three numbers are based on the state where you are born; the second set  of numbers is used to break larger geographic areas into smaller blocks; and  the final four numbers are randomized serial numbers.3 Since 2011,  the Social Security Administration changed the way SSNs were issued to be  completely randomized and developed this new method to help protect the  integrity of the SSN.3
  Hackers Steal More SSNs than Credit Card Numbers
  Last year, and for the  first time ever, hackers stole more SSNs than credit card numbers, according to  a 2018 study by Javelin Strategy & Research. Once a thief or fraudster has  someone's social security number—which is needed by banks to extend credit or  open an account—they may be able to apply for credit in that person's name, or  file fraudulent tax returns, among other illegal activities.
  Keeping Tabs on Your Social Security Number
  The exposure of millions of  SSNs is scary, but there is a silver lining. Capital One® has tools available  to help consumers protect their credit and quickly detect fraud for free. CreditWise® from Capital One has three  new features to help users keep tabs on their Social Security number.
  ·   Social Security Number (SSN)  Tracker:CreditWise now tracks the names  and addresses associated with credit applications linked to a user's SSN, as  reported by Experian, and alerts users when their SSN is used to apply for  credit.
  ·   Dual Bureau Credit Alerts:CreditWise sends users alerts when meaningful changes, like  applications for a line of credit, occur on their Experian and TransUnion  credit reports.
  ·   Dark Web Surveillance:CreditWise now scans the dark web, including thousands of unsafe  sites, hacking forums and illegal digital marketplaces, and alerts users if it  finds their Social Security number or email address so they can take action. CreditWise  is free for everyone—whether you're a customer or not.
  In addition to enrolling  with CreditWise, there are further actions consumers can take to spot credit  fraud and quickly take action.
  ·   Get a Free Copy of Your Credit Report: Once a year, consumers can get a free copy of their credit  report from the three major bureaus (Experian®, Equifax®, TransUnion®) at annualcreditreport.com. It's  important to review all three reports—some lenders don't report to every  bureau, so they may have different information.
  ·   Add Fraud Alerts to Your Credit Report: Consumers can put a fraud alert on their credit reports if  they are (or think) they may be a victim of identity theft. Once a fraud alert  is in place, lenders must take extra steps to verify the consumers' identity  before issuing credit in their name.
  ·   Freeze Your Credit: Consumers  can consider a credit freeze if they think they are the victim of identity  theft. This is a tool that lets consumers restrict access to their credit  report. And since most creditors need to see the person's credit report before  they'll let someone open a new account, this could make it harder for potential  thieves to apply for credit or open accounts in their name.
  Tracking SSN fraud can be  especially difficult, since typically most people are not regularly monitoring  for fraud. More often than not, people only notice that fraud has occurred  during significant life events or times of the year, like when they go to file  their taxes or buy a house. Luckily there are tools, like CreditWise from  Capital One, to help keep an eye on this important number.
  To learn more about  CreditWise: visit creditwise.com or download it in  the App Store or Google Play Store.


  1. https://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/ssb/v69n2/v69n2p55.html
  3. https://www.ssa.gov/history/ssn/firstcard.html
  5. https://www.wired.com/brandlab/2018/07/want-know-social-security-number-risk-theres-app/


As Managing Vice President of US Card and Head of  Emerging Segments at Capital One, Jeff Amster focuses on helping  customers succeed, accelerating the company's technology transformation and  empowering his teams to do the greatest work of their lives. In his  role, Jeff oversees business strategy and product development of  flagship card products, digital services and innovative customer solutions. A  seasoned Capital One executive, Jeff joined Capital One in 2003 and  has held several leadership roles in his 15 years at the company. He also  currently serves as a Credit Officer for Capital One. Jeff is a graduate  of Yale University with a bachelor's degree in Economics. 


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