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June 9, 2009 10:38 PM   Subscribe

How is it legal to post people's social security numbers on the internet for everyone to see?

I was working on my family ancestry, and came across a website that had my recently deceased grandfather, his birth and death date, social security number, and our home listed. It is just free and available for anyone that can type in his name to look at. I thought social security numbers are supposed to be private. The whole thing feels very weird to me. Is this really legal? and normal?
posted by rubberkey to Law & Government (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Not for the deceased. Indeed, the Social Security Death Index publishes this very information. My understanding is that its done to prevent fraudulent use of the identities of the recently deceased (although this still happens) and to provide a mechanism to notify banks and other agencies that their account holders are no longer with us and their accounts should be closed and the funds transferred to estate.
posted by zachlipton at 10:43 PM on June 9, 2009

Oh, and sorry for your loss.
posted by zachlipton at 10:43 PM on June 9, 2009

Is this really legal? and normal?

Yes and yes.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:08 PM on June 9, 2009

It is useful to publish the Social Security numbers of the deceased, and especially the recently deceased, in order to be certain that those Social Security numbers are not used for illicit purposes by persons pretending to be them.
posted by koeselitz at 11:23 PM on June 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

As koeselitz says, publishing the SSNs of dead people is a public announcement that those SSNs are no longer to be used. Your grandfather's SSN doesn't need to be private now that he's dead; he's neither contributing to, nor withdrawing from, the Social Security system. Therefore, that number is also "dead", so there are no further benefits to keeping it private, and significant potential benefits to making it public.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:57 AM on June 10, 2009

Thanks, I hadn't thought of it for preventing identity theft.
-not brainy
posted by Brainy at 3:43 PM on June 12, 2009

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