Help me help him look for a job
November 2, 2006 10:37 AM   Subscribe

Social security numbers on job applications. I have a library user who is applying for hourly-level jobs at places that only accept online applications. A surprising number of the application sites ask for a social security number, and are set up so that unless you put nine digits in the SSN field you can't proceed to the rest of the application.

This library user wants to play by the rules but is, naturally, reluctant to give out this information. All the job sites ( included) say you should never provide your SSN until you are in the final stages of being hired. It's my understanding that a company cannot require an SSN of an applicant (although I could be wrong about that), but in this case there's no way to get around giving them one. No matter how much I Google, I can't find any advice about what to do when you have to put in a number to get to the rest of the form. So I have come to the ultimate source of advice, Ask MeFi.

If we enter a string of random numbers, is it going to knock his application out of consideration? How will the company react if/when he is hired and has to give his actual number? These are entry-level positions like stocker or parking lot attendant, if it matters.
posted by Jaie to Work & Money (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Hmm, two ideas:
(1) Have him call the companies, explain he's not comfortable giving out his SSN on a preliminary application, and see what they have to say.
(2) Type in 000-00-0000.

I would definitely not type in a string of random numbers, though.
posted by pricklypear at 10:57 AM on November 2, 2006

Second the motion for the 000-00-0000 method.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:04 AM on November 2, 2006

Thirding the all-0's. If he/she can include a note explaining that their social security number will be available in person if requested, it should not be a big deal.
posted by tastybrains at 11:06 AM on November 2, 2006

You most definitely do NOT want to put in a string of random numbers, since depending on what state you live in you may be breaking the new anti- identity theft laws by inadvertenty using someone else's social security number. I second the idea of putting in all zero's or all one's.
posted by crazyray at 11:39 AM on November 2, 2006

Response by poster: Same question about the string of 0s (or 1s or any other number) - is it going to knock his application out of consideration? I wish he could call the companies to explain, but we're talking about Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, Home Depot and the like, so I don't think he's going to get through to anyone who cares.
posted by Jaie at 12:08 PM on November 2, 2006

I have no idea how employers will react to any of these suggestions, but (via)
  1. Any field all zeroes (no field of zeroes is ever assigned)
  2. First digit "8" (no area numbers in the 800 series have been assigned)
  3. First two digits 73-79 (no area numbers in the 700 series have been assigned except 700-729 which were assigned to railroad workers until 1964)
  4. Numbers beginning with 9 have never been assigned to individuals, but some have been assigned to organizations and for other special purposes.
  5. The Social Security Administration recommends that people showing Social Security cards in advertisements use numbers in the range 987-65-4320 through 987-65-4329.
  6. Richard M. Nixon's Social Security number is 567-68-0515

posted by Skorgu at 12:10 PM on November 2, 2006 [10 favorites]

I've always been a big fan of using Richard Nixon's SS number when places try to use my ss as an identifier. But for an online job app, I would use all 0s as noted above.
posted by dejah420 at 12:12 PM on November 2, 2006


Great info. Love #6
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:14 PM on November 2, 2006

Best answer: XXX-XX-last four digits of actual number

is how we put SSNs on those court documents (such as wage garnishments) that require SSNs on their face, but can't be sealed because they must be served upon instutitions. if he can't use the Xs, perhaps a string of zeros and the last four digits. that permits the person handling the application to recognize a unique numerical identifier for it but doesn't put his actual SSN out in the world.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:21 PM on November 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

I've been told that a person can use a tax payer ID number in place of a social security number. Sadly this may take a while as you have to apply for a tax payer ID in order to get one. While this would be a number that is traceable to the person you're trying to help, there would be no other data tied to that number.
posted by lekvar at 12:38 PM on November 2, 2006

Use an SSN that has been officially invalidated by mass advertising. Hilda Witcher's 078-05-1120 number has been used by tens of thousands of people since 1938.
posted by meehawl at 1:25 PM on November 2, 2006 [2 favorites]

To address your concern, I doubt that using zeroes would cause his application to be thrown out. I've done it myself and have seen it done by others. Especially for an entry-level retail position, I don't imagine they'll even do anything with the SSN prior to at least bringing him in for an interview.

As an aside, he might have better luck getting this job if he introduces himself directly to the store manager. If it's some kind of faceless corporate application process (and it kind of sounds like it is, unfortunately), this could help him stand out from all the other entry-level candidates. (At least, that's what worked for me in the retail days of my youth.)
posted by pricklypear at 1:36 PM on November 2, 2006

Best answer: No offense crush-onastick, but that is the worst possible way to obfuscate a SSN. I'm unbelievably surprised that this is done with court documents! There are at least 2 reasons for this:

1. How do most people confirm your identity over the phone? Yup -- the last 4 digits of your SSN. If someone has those last for digits -- which you're freely giving away on public court documents -- they could definately do some damage. One example: My cell phone provider (Verizon) uses this method. Anyone with the last four digits of my SSN, my name, and my cell phone number, could get, among other things, my call history.

2. Anyone with a Lexis Nexis account (a very popular research site) can now find this persons complete SSN. If you do a people search on Lexis Nexis, they use the exact opposite approach: The X-out the last four digits. If I see a court document with John Doe's last four SSN digits, all I have to do is look him up on Lexis Nexis, and I've got his complete SSN.

Additionally, keep in mind that many many businesses use Lexis Nexis -- so that likely would not stop them from getting your SSN if they really really wanted it.

I think any of Skorgu's suggestions are definately the way to go.
posted by jk47 at 6:23 PM on November 2, 2006

I always used to transpose a couple numbers, usually the middle two. If asked I could claim it was an accident.

No one ever asked.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:59 PM on November 2, 2006

Best answer: Speaking as someone who's actually developed database systems, I can tell you you absolutely should NOT enter all zeros, all 8s, etc. The reason for this is that many systems use the SSNs as unique identifiers. Thus, as soon as John Doe #2 tries the 000-00-0000 trick there will be serious problems.

Why not zero out the last 4? That way you're matching what LexisNexis et al does?

Actually, the *best* solution would be to have the system be able to identify "fake" SSNs by using the 8 as suggested by Skorgu for the first number. Follow this with digits 2-5 of the SSN, followed by 0000. Odds are *very* good that this will avoid revealing too much of the number while still ensuring that it is unique enough to avoid a conflict in the database. And, again, the initial "8" will let the employer know that the applicant purposefully submitted an incomplete SSN and will know to have this changed upon hiring them (important, since otherwise if you use a "valid" SSN like Nixon's, you might be contributing to his social security pension, not yours!)
posted by Deathalicious at 9:29 PM on November 2, 2006

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