Do You Know Your National Identification Number?
~ By Gerald Rome, Colorado Securities Commissioner ~
We are always being warned that we need to protect ourselves against identity theft. Identity theft is a crime where a thief steals your personal information, such as your full name or Social Security number, to commit fraud. The identity thief can use your information to fraudulently apply for credit, file taxes, or get medical services. These acts can damage your credit status, and cost you time and money to restore your good name. You may not know that you are the victim of ID theft until you experience a financial consequence (mystery bills, credit collections, denied loans) down the road from actions that the thief has taken with your stolen identity.
Not too long ago, we all carried our social security number on a card in our wallet. Here in Colorado, it used to be on our Colorado driver’s license. And on how many forms have you filled out in the past where it was common practice to share your number. It used to be we didn’t care who had our social security number. So, what changed?
Prior to 1935, no one actually had a social security number. That changed when President Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act. Under this Act, taxes were taken out of your paycheck, and when you could not work, some of the money would come back to you. But the Social Security Administration had to figure out how to keep track of every worker in the country, and how much they paid. That’s a lot of people to keep track of. They couldn’t use everyone’s names (how many Smith’s are there, after all?), so they decided to assign everyone their own social security number. And we didn’t mind sharing this number, as it only kept track of your earnings.
Here’s what happened. Other federal agencies like the IRS, Medicare, or the Veterans Administration also needed a record system to keep track of everyone. They decided that rather than inventing a whole new system, it made sense to use the system they already had going over at the Social Security Administration. The IRS started using your social security number in 1962, Medicare started using it in 1965, and even the Department of Defense started using it in 1969 as the military identification number. Private companies, like banks, credit card companies, and mortgage companies also started using it to identify people. And now it is used for almost everything. It really has become our national identification number. When the Social Security Administration gave you that card with your number on it (now people get one when they are born), no one realized that they were also inadvertently inventing a national identification number.
That is why crooks go to such length to try and steal it. It is the key to your identity, and therefore your finances and your retirement money. So, if someone calls you and asks for your number, even just the last four digits, just say no. And remember, if ever something feels like a scam, please contact us by calling (303) 894-2320. Anyone can find themselves the victim of a financial scam so don’t let fear, embarrassment, or uncertainty keep you from asking for help. Your report will help prevent others from becoming victims too.