Social Security Number

Social Security Administration

SOCIAL SECURITY: YOUR NUMBER

SSA Publication No. 05-10002
October 1996

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INTRODUCTION

Many of us got our Social Security number about the time we got our first job. It was a symbol of our right to work and our responsibility to pay taxes. And, like getting a driver's license, it was symbolic of becoming an adult. Today, many parents apply for a number for their newborns even before they leave the hospital!

Just as having a Social Security number is no longer a symbol of adulthood, the number's use is no longer confined to working and paying taxes. In ever increasing numbers, government agencies, schools, and businesses rely on Social Security numbers to identify people in their computer systems. Everyone seems to want your Social Security number.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is aware of concerns about the increasing uses of the Social Security number for client identification and recordkeeping purposes. You should not use your Social Security card as an identification card. However, several other government agencies are permitted by law to use Social Security numbers, but there is no law either authorizing or prohibiting their use. Banks and other financial institutions use the numbers to report interest earned on accounts to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Other government agencies use Social Security numbers in computer matching operations to stop fraud and abuse. For example, using Social Security numbers, some state death records are matched to Medicare records to uncover Medicare and Social Security fraud.

PRIVACY OF RECORDS

Although we can't prevent others from asking for your number, you should know that giving it to them does NOT give them access to your Social Security records. The privacy of your records is guaranteed unless 1) disclosure to another government agency is required by law or 2) the information is needed to conduct Social Security or other government health or welfare programs.

If a business or other enterprise asks you for your Social Security number, you can refuse to give it to them. However, that may mean doing without the purchase or service for which your number was requested.

Our primary message is this: be careful with your Social Security number and your card and protect their privacy whenever possible.

THE ORIGINAL PURPOSE OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER

When Social Security began in 1935, a system was needed to keep track of the earnings, and eventually the benefits, of people who worked in jobs covered under the new program. Because many people use more than one name over a lifetime or share the same name, a numerical identifier was selected.

WHAT THE NUMBERS MEAN

The nine-digit Social Security number is divided into three parts. The first three numbers generally indicate the state of residence at the time a person applies for his or her first card. Originally, the lowest numbers were assigned to the New England states, and the numbers grew progressively higher in the South and West. However, in recent years, this geographical relationship has been disrupted somewhat by the need to allocate numbers out of sequence as state populations change.

The middle two digits of a Social Security number have no special significance, but merely serve to break the numbers into blocks of convenient size. The last four characters represent a straight numerical progression of assigned numbers.

SSA has issued more than 383 million Social Security numbers, and about 6 million new numbers are assigned each year. But even at this rate, there will be no need to reissue the same numbers, revise the present system, or devise a new numbering system for several generations. For this reason, SSA plans to continue using the nine-digit number.

TYPES OF SOCIAL SECURITY CARDS

SSA issues three types of Social Security cards. The first type of card is the card most people have, and has been issued since 1935. It shows the person's name and Social Security number, and it lets the person work without restriction. SSA issues it to U.S. citizens and permanent resident aliens.

The second type of card bears the legend "NOT VALID FOR EMPLOYMENT." SSA issues it to people from other countries who are lawfully admitted to the United States without INS work authorization, but who need a number because of a federal, state or local law requiring a Social Security number to get a benefit or service.

SSA began issuing the third type of card in 1992. It bears the legend "VALID FOR WORK ONLY WITH INS AUTHORIZATION." It is issued to people who are admitted to the United States on a temporary basis with Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) authorization to work.

PROTECTING YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER AND RECORDS

When you work, your Social Security number is used to record your earnings. Here are some things you can do to protect your Social Security record and to make sure it is accurate.

  • Show your Social Security card to your employer when you start a job.
  • Check the name and Social Security number on your pay stub and W-2 form to make sure your name and number are correct.
  • Keep your card in a safe place but don't rely on your memory when furnishing your number. If you give your employer the wrong Social Security number, your earnings may get credited to some other worker.
  • Send for an earnings statement at least every three years to make sure your record is right. The statement is available free of charge from Social Security by calling 1-800-772-1213.

SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER MISUSE

Sometimes more than one person uses the same Social Security number, either on purpose or accidentally. Let us know if someone is using a Social Security number that belongs to someone else.

It's against the law to use someone else's Social Security number or to give false information when applying for a number. Also, it's illegal to alter, buy, or sell Social Security cards. Anyone convicted of these crimes is subject to fines and/or imprisonment.

IF SOMEONE ELSE USES YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER

What Social Security Can Do

If you suspect that someone is using your number, you should report it to Social Security. You can check your earnings record by calling 1-800-772-1213 and asking for a "Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement." Your statement will show the earnings reported for your Social Security number each year since 1951. If you find that too much or too little is reported for your number, notify Social Security. We will help you correct your record.

What Social Security Cannot Do

If your Social Security number has been used to run up bills or obtain credit, Social Security cannot straighten out your credit record. You must contact each creditor or credit agency yourself. We cannot fix incorrect reports made by an employer to state unemployment or welfare offices. You will need to contact the state or local agency to correct your record.

Because there is no law concerning the use of a person's Social Security number by a private individual or organization, Social Security has no control over such use.

MISLEADING ADVERTISING PRACTICES

Some private firms sell metal or plastic Social Security cards or offer them free as a "come on" for other business offers. Although these cards are not illegal, only a Social Security card issued by the Social Security Administration is the official verification of a person's Social Security number. However, make sure your number is correct if you decide to use these services.

Sometimes private firms offer, for a fee, to obtain a number for a newborn child or get a revised card for a bride showing her new name. Generally, these businesses are not illegal, but remember that both services are free when you contact Social Security directly. It is illegal for private firms to use words that seemingly represent Social Security or emblems that suggest a government affiliation to solicit business.

If you receive something you think is illegal, turn over the entire package, including the envelope, to your local Social Security office or send the material to the Social Security Administration, Office of Communications, P.O. Box 17740, Baltimore, Maryland 21235. If you wish, you also can turn over the material to local postal authorities.

APPLYING FOR A NEW OR REPLACEMENT CARD

If you need to a Social Security number or want to replace your lost or stolen card, or get a card showing your new name, call or visit Social Security. These services are free. You will need to complete an application and furnish one or more documents as identification.

You can also download Form SS-5 for a new or replacement card from this service.

To get a Social Security number, you will need to provide documents that show your identity, age, and citizenship or lawful alien status.

To replace your lost or stolen card, you usually need one identifying document. To change the name on your card, you need to show one or more documents that identify you by your old name and your new name. If you were born outside the United States, generally you also must show proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status. Your replacement card will have the same number as your old card.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

You can get more information 24 hours a day by calling Social Security's toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213. You can call for an appointment or to speak to a service representative between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on business days. Our lines are busiest early in the week and early in the month so, if your business can wait, it's best to call at other times. Whenever you call, have your Social Security number handy.

If you have a touch-tone phone, recorded information and services are available 24 hours a day, including weekends and holidays. People who are deaf or hard of hearing may call our toll-free "TTY" number 1-800-325-0778, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on business days.

Social Security publications are available to users of the Internet. Type http://www.ssa.gov to access Internet and these publications.

The Social Security Administration treats all calls confidentially--whether they're made to our toll-free numbers or to one of our local offices. We also want to make sure that you receive accurate and courteous service. That's why we have a second Social Security representative monitor some incoming and outgoing telephone calls.

Social Security Administration
SSA Publication No. 05-10002
October 1996

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