Preventing Fraud By Protecting Social Security Numbers

Thursday, April 7, 2005

Although most Americans have learned to guard personal information to minimize the risk of identity theft, individual precautions alone may not be enough to keep personal information out of the hands of criminals or others who wish to do harm. News reports have publicized recent security lapses, including data compromised by computer hackers and the unauthorized release of data by brokers who sell personal information without ensuring the legitimacy of the buyer.

Social Security numbers are especially at risk because these numbers have become a key to verifying identity. Frequently, consumers are asked to provide Social Security numbers to complete routine tasks -- to open bank accounts, obtain driver's licenses, apply for loans, buy insurance, get credit cards, or establish telephone, electric, or gas utility services. No laws prohibit the sale of Social Security numbers, but privacy experts warn that unauthorized users who gain access to this information can access bank accounts, run up credit card debt, or otherwise ruin a person's good name.

With identity theft on the rise, it has become increasingly clear that serious privacy risks are created by unrestricted commerce in Social Security numbers and the resulting abuses of this information.

In order to deal with these threats to privacy, I have cosponsored legislation to help reduce the incidence of identity theft and other frauds or crimes involving misuse of a person's Social Security number.

The Social Security Number Protection Act would make it a crime for a person to purchase or sell Social Security numbers. Under the provisions of the legislation, the Federal Trade Commission would be given rulemaking authority to restrict the sale of Social Security numbers, determine appropriate exemptions, and to enforce civil compliance with the bill's restrictions. The bill would also authorize the states to enforce compliance and provide for appropriate penalties.

The Social Security Number Protection Act has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee and to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. I hope that these committees will move ahead with hearings on this issue so that Congress can address the problems related to the sale of Social Security numbers and associated crime and fraud.

More information about protecting personal information is available on the Social Security Administration's Web site at, and on the Federal Trade Commission's identity theft prevention Web site at

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