Apr 30, 2016

Can Social Security Stop Using Social Security Numbers In Notices?

     Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently issued a report on the agency's use of Social Security numbers on correspondence, noting that this creates a risk of the numbers falling into the wrong hands. OIG found that 66% of the notices that the agency sends out include a Social Security number. OIG recommended that the agency make removing the numbers from correspondence a priority.
     Social Security's response to the OIG report was that including the Social Security number was "central to its business process." The agency had convened a workgroup last year to explore removing the number from correspondence but the workgroup recommended delay in doing anything. However, the agency promised to explore "explore leveraging existing information technology projects to replace the SSN with the Beneficiary Notice Control Number on notices." I haven't seen a Beneficiary Notice Control Number. I don't think they have been used at all to this point even on a trial basis.
     The real problem here isn't Social Security's use of the Social Security number. That's what it was designed for! The real problem is everyone else's use of the Social Security number.


Anonymous said...

Indeed, it's the misuse of the SSN by everyone else in the world that brings about the bizzarro world idea that the Social Security Administration should NOT use the SSN in programs that they administer that use the number that they created for their use. Anyone who has worked with the public when they have questions (about their benefits or a relations that they are calling for) know that there are so many who almost never have the right claim number in their head. Survivor, auxiliary benefits don't use the person's own SSN and children calling about their widowed mom are often surprised to learn that the claim number is their dad's SSN. Having the claim number on the letter makes it so much faster to get to the right records and start to respond to their question rather than playing 20 questions to get there. Seriously, has anyone looked into what the service response time impact will be, both online and by phone and in person, if the letter lacks the claim number and the interview or inquiry must take longer identifying the record before getting into the question itself?

Anonymous said...

If they used correspondence control numbers, they'd just need a confidential index of correspondence control numbers to account numbers and the impact on time would be minimal.

Tim said...

John Patrick Smith
Claim # BR5490001
Call 800-867-5309 ask for Jenny

JP Smith SHOULD know his own SS#!!!!

Anonymous said...

You're right that the problem is everyone else using SSNs. It is getting better - it used to be many states used SSNs as driver's license numbers, and many colleges used them as student numbers, but that is less frequent now. Even health insurance companies have moved away from using them. However, the big problem is that knowledge of one's SSN (along with a few other pieces of information such as date of birth) is used as confirmation of identity. I'm not sure about the best way to fix that, but it could be done. It would probably inconvenience the credit card issuers, but that's OK with me. I'd be fine with having to show ID to apply for credit.

Anonymous said...

I agree. You can say that it's easy to just create/use another number and link it to the SSN, but in practice that is another layer of stuff to go wrong. And another number (that they most definitely would not already know) for a claimant/rep to keep up with.

The problem isn't that SSA overuses SSNs, it's that other entities--especially private ones--rely so heavily on the use of SSNs, which makes stealing/otherwise messing with them way more valuable than if it were just only to mess with SSA benefits.