What's in a SS#
September 27, 2005 11:51 PM   Subscribe

What can your Social Security Number tell someone about you?

I just opened a new checking account today and was asked what my Social Security number was. I don't care that a company knows my number but I was wondering what it can tell them about me. Does it just verify my name or maybe my name and age or my name, age, weight, address, and everything else about me.
posted by apdato to Law & Government (13 answers total)
Well, straight off it tells you where it was issued, which is probably where your parents were living within a year of your birth (unless you're old enough to be born before SS #s were required to declare children as income tax exemptions.)
posted by Zed_Lopez at 11:55 PM on September 27, 2005

If you're somewhere in between, say, 25 and 30, it definitely can't tell anyone your age. I can't seem to find the year in which they changed the rules, but prior to sometime around 25-30 years ago, individuals under 18 were not required to have a social security number. Now, if you happen to be older than that, perhaps they could figure out the year you got it and then guess that you were 18 when you got it. Same thing for if you're younger (the year of issue would correspond roughly to your birth year). If you're in the middle, though, you could have been anywhere from 1-18 when you got your number.

What someone can tell about you from your SSN is far less important than what they can do to you with your SSN. For example, I recently had my bank account (and quite a bit of my credit card) drained by a nice person in Brazil. Luckily, banks these days will actually give you your money back.
posted by dsword at 12:06 AM on September 28, 2005

I found this hugely useful chunk of info on a Delta Green Wiki - it breaks it down in large detail and even offers additional links at the bottom.

It should have everything you need.
posted by longbaugh at 1:42 AM on September 28, 2005

But us furriners mess up the age system a little, dsword. I got my SS# when I was 22, when I first worked in the States.
posted by jamesonandwater at 5:46 AM on September 28, 2005

While the number itself can be traced to where it was issued, the SSN is also the primary key for database lookups that will tell the bank everything important about you: they can learn your name, date of birth, where you live, how much money you have, what party you're registered to vote with, how many children you have, what brand of toilet paper you prefer, whether you have a police record, etc.
posted by jellicle at 6:16 AM on September 28, 2005

Is that list of prefixes & corresponding states out of date, or very new? Mine doesn't match up.
posted by Marit at 6:36 AM on September 28, 2005

Oops, just checked the Wiki -- it had a few at the end that weren't on the other list.
posted by Marit at 6:41 AM on September 28, 2005

Marit, the SSA has the current list on their site, as another source.
posted by smackfu at 6:42 AM on September 28, 2005

The last 4 digits of your social are obviously not a unique identifier. There are only 10,000 combinations (well, 9999) you can make for those numbers. Them asking for it is a confirmation step, since there is only a 1/10,000 chance that someone who is not you can guess those 4 digits. It's just like a pin that the other party already knows. It's not a very good one.

What someone can get from your social depends on who they are. Big data companies have a lot of info on you, and with a few pieces of info a LOT of that can be dredged up. Your social security number alone is probably enough to access your file at these companies, as is, say, a drivers license, name/address/phone number, etc. Unfortunately if someone has access to those databases they can look up lots of info about you ONLY using publicly available information as a key. Of course, it's a lot easier/more foolproof with a social security number.
posted by RustyBrooks at 6:57 AM on September 28, 2005

Oops, read your statement more closely, odinstream. It's true, IF I know your last 4 digits, and also your name, what services you go to, I could probably get a lot of information about you.

Also, when asked for a confirmation question like that at your bank or something, try not giving it some time. Be persuasive. You'd be surprised at what they'd hand over even if you can't remember your pin, mothers maiden name, etc. My bank keeps asking questions until they find one I can answer.
posted by RustyBrooks at 6:59 AM on September 28, 2005

It depends who you give your SSN to. I avoid giving it to anyone who isn't the government, so it would be hard to learn anything at all about me using my SSN.

When I sign up for whatever I just leave that field blank or say I don't give it out, or if they hassle me I say I don't have one (which was true for a long time, they have no proof it's not still true) or I don't know it off the top of my head and I'm not going to go home and look it up (which is still true). They'll let you use any four digit number as a password. Normally if they hassle me it's because the person on the phone is a little perplexed about how to deal with their computer without a SSN. They figure it out.

When I call for customer service and they want to look me up by SSN I just say "You don't have it, so you can't look me up that way. Here's my address."

If you give it to everyone, then eventually everything they know about you could potentially be matched up as databases get sold from one person to another, matched up and then sold again.
posted by duck at 7:01 AM on September 28, 2005

Actually my SSN's prefix isn't on the SSA list that smackfu linked to. According to the previous wiki's list my SSN is in the "Not valid SSNs" range.

That caused me problems when trying to build a credit raiting for the first few years of residency in the USA. It seems blocks of the 800-999 range are constantly being used and "released" into the wild. Unfortunately the algorithms/databases that companies used to check the SSN numbers are not kept up to date.
posted by schwa at 7:04 AM on September 28, 2005

There are only 10,000 combinations (well, 9999) you can make for those numbers.

Actually it is 10,000, assuming "0000" is a valid combo.
posted by jalexei at 9:52 AM on September 28, 2005

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