In the United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...
, a Social Security number
) is a nine-digit number issued to U.S. citizens
Article I, section 8, clause 4 of the United States Constitution expressly gives the United States Congress the power to establish a uniform rule of naturalization. The Immigration and Naturalization Act sets forth the legal requirements for the acquisition of, and divestiture from, citizenship of...
, permanent residents, and temporary (working) residents under section 205(c)(2) of the Social Security Act, codified as . The number is issued to an individual by the Social Security Administration
The United States Social Security Administration is an independent agency of the United States federal government that administers Social Security, a social insurance program consisting of retirement, disability, and survivors' benefits...
, an independent agency of the United States government
Independent agencies of the United States federal government are those agencies that exist outside of the federal executive departments...
. Its primary purpose is to track individuals for taxation
The United States is a federal republic with autonomous state and local governments. Taxes are imposed in the United States at each of these levels. These include taxes on income, property, sales, imports, payroll, estates and gifts, as well as various fees.Taxes are imposed on net income of...
A Social Security number may be obtained by applying on Form SS-5, "Application for A Social Security Number Card".
The SSNs were issued by the Social Security Administration in November 1935 as part of the New Deal
The New Deal was a series of economic programs implemented in the United States between 1933 and 1936. They were passed by the U.S. Congress during the first term of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The programs were Roosevelt's responses to the Great Depression, and focused on what historians call...
Social Security program. Within three months, 25 million numbers were issued.
Before 1986, people often did not obtain a Social Security number until the age of about 14, since the numbers were used for income tracking purposes, and those under that age seldom had substantial income. The Tax Reform Act of 1986
The U.S. Congress passed the Tax Reform Act of 1986 to simplify the income tax code, broaden the tax base and eliminate many tax shelters and other preferences...
required parents to list Social Security numbers for each dependent over the age of 5 for whom the parent wanted to claim a tax deduction
Income tax systems generally allow a tax deduction, i.e., a reduction of the income subject to tax, for various items, especially expenses incurred to produce income. Often these deductions are subject to limitations or conditions...
. Before this act, parents claiming tax deductions were on the honor system
An honor system or honesty system is a philosophical way of running a variety of endeavors based on trust, honor, and honesty. Something that operates under the rule of the "honor system" is usually something that does not have strictly enforced rules governing its principles...
not to lie about the number of children they supported. During the first year, this anti-fraud change resulted in seven million fewer minor dependents being claimed, nearly all of which are believed to have involved either children that never existed, or tax deductions improperly claimed by non-custodial parents. By 1990, the threshold was lowered to 1 year old, and is now required regardless of the child's age. Since then, parents have often applied for Social Security numbers for their children soon after birth; today, it can be done on the application for a birth certificate
A birth certificate is a vital record that documents the birth of a child. The term "birth certificate" can refer to either the original document certifying the circumstances of the birth or to a certified copy of or representation of the ensuing registration of that birth...
On November 24, 1936, after which 1,074 of the nation's 45,000 post offices were designated "typing centers" to type up Social Security cards that were then sent to Washington, D.C. On December 1, as part of the publicity campaign for the new program, Joseph L. Fay of the Social Security Administration selected a record from the top of the first stack of 1,000 records and announced that the first Social Security number in history was assigned to John David Sweeney, Jr., of New Rochelle, New York
New Rochelle is a city in Westchester County, New York, United States, in the southeastern portion of the state.The town was settled by refugee Huguenots in 1688 who were fleeing persecution in France...
Purpose and use
The original purpose of this number was to track individuals' accounts within the Social Security program. It has since come to be used as an identifier for individuals within the United States, although rare errors occur where duplicates do exist. As numbers are now assigned by the central issuing office of the SSA, it is unlikely that duplications will ever occur again. A few duplications did occur when prenumbered cards were sent out to regional SSA offices and (originally) Post Offices. Employee, patient, student, and credit
Credit history or credit report is, in many countries, a record of an individual's or company's past borrowing and repaying, including information about late payments and bankruptcy...
records are sometimes indexed by Social Security number. The U.S. Armed Forces
The United States Armed Forces are the military forces of the United States. They consist of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard.The United States has a strong tradition of civilian control of the military...
has used the Social Security number as an identification number for the Army and Air Force since July 1, 1969, the Navy and Marine Corps since January 1, 1972, and the Coast Guard since October 1, 1974. Previously, the United States military used a much more complicated system of service numbers.
In the United States, Social Security refers to the federal Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance program.The original Social Security Act and the current version of the Act, as amended encompass several social welfare and social insurance programs...
was originally a universal tax, but when Medicare
Medicare is a social insurance program administered by the United States government, providing health insurance coverage to people who are aged 65 and over; to those who are under 65 and are permanently physically disabled or who have a congenital physical disability; or to those who meet other...
was passed in 1965, objecting religious groups in existence prior to 1951 were allowed to opt out of the system. Because of this, not every American is part of the Social Security program, and not everyone has a number. However, a social security number is required for parents to claim their children as dependents for federal income tax purposes, and the Internal Revenue Service requires all corporations to obtain SSNs (or alternative identifying numbers) from their employees, as described below. The Old Order Amish have fought to prevent universal Social Security by overturning rules such as a requirement to provide a Social Security number for a hunting license.
Social Security cards printed from January 1946 up until January 1972 expressly stated the number and card were not to be used for identification purposes. Since nearly everyone in the United States now has a number, it became convenient to use it anyway and the message was removed.
The SSN card is still not suitable for primary identification as it has no photograph, no physical description and no birth date. All it does is confirm that a particular number has been issued to a particular name.
Since then, Social Security numbers have become de facto
De facto is a Latin expression that means "concerning fact." In law, it often means "in practice but not necessarily ordained by law" or "in practice or actuality, but not officially established." It is commonly used in contrast to de jure when referring to matters of law, governance, or...
national identification number
A national identification number, national identity number, or national insurance number is used by the governments of many countries as a means of tracking their citizens, permanent residents, and temporary residents for the purposes of work, taxation, government benefits, health care, and other...
s. Although some people do not have an SSN assigned to them, it is becoming increasingly difficult to engage in legitimate financial activities such as applying for a loan or a bank account without one. While the government cannot require an individual to disclose his SSN without a legal basis, companies may refuse to provide service to an individual who does not provide a SSN.
Use required for federal tax purposes
Internal Revenue Code
The Internal Revenue Code is the domestic portion of Federal statutory tax law in the United States, published in various volumes of the United States Statutes at Large, and separately as Title 26 of the United States Code...
section 6109(d) provides: “The social security account number issued to an individual for purposes of section 205(c)(2)(A) of the Social Security Act [codified as ] shall, except as shall otherwise be specified under regulations of the Secretary [of the Treasury or his delegate], be used as the identifying number for such individual for purposes of this title [the Internal Revenue Code, title 26 of the United States Code
The Code of Laws of the United States of America is a compilation and codification of the general and permanent federal laws of the United States...
The Internal Revenue Code also provides, when required by regulations prescribed by the Secretary [of the Treasury or his delegate]:
- Inclusion in returns: Any person required under the authority of this title to make a return, statement, or other document shall include in such return, statement, or other document such identifying number as may be prescribed for securing proper identification of such person.
- Furnishing number to other persons: Any person with respect to whom a return, statement, or other document is required under the authority of this title to be made by another person or whose identifying number is required to be shown on a return of another person shall furnish to such other person such identifying number as may be prescribed for securing his proper identification.
According to U.S. Treasury regulations, any person who, after October 31, 1962, works as an employee for wages subject to Social Security taxes, Medicare taxes, or U.S. federal income tax withholdings is required to apply for "an account number" using "Form SS-5."
A taxpayer who is not eligible to have a Social Security number must obtain an alternative Taxpayer Identification Number.
Types of Social Security cards
Three different types of Social Security cards are issued. The most common type contains the cardholder's name and number. Such cards are issued to U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents. There are also two restricted types of Social Security cards:
- One reads "not valid for employment." Such cards cannot be used as proof of work authorization, and are not acceptable as a List C document on the I-9 form.
- The other reads "valid for work only with DHS authorization." These cards are issued to people who have temporary work authorization in the U.S. They can satisfy the I-9 requirement, if they are accompanied by a work authorization card.
In 2004 Congress passed The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act; parts of which mandated that the Social Security Administration redesign the Social Security Number (SSN) Card to prevent forgery. From April 2006 through August, 2007, Social Security Administration
The United States Social Security Administration is an independent agency of the United States federal government that administers Social Security, a social insurance program consisting of retirement, disability, and survivors' benefits...
(SSA) and Government Printing Office (GPO) employees were assigned to redesign the Social Security Number Card to the specifications of the Interagency Task Force created by the Commissioner of Social Security in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security.
The new SSN card design utilizes both covert and overt security features created by the SSA and GPO design teams.
Many citizens and privacy
Privacy is the ability of an individual or group to seclude themselves or information about themselves and thereby reveal themselves selectively...
advocates are concerned about the disclosure and processing of Social Security numbers. Furthermore, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University
Carnegie Mellon University is a private research university in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States....
have demonstrated an algorithm which uses publicly available personal information to reconstruct a given SSN.
The SSN is frequently used by those involved in identity theft
Identity theft is a form of stealing another person's identity in which someone pretends to be someone else by assuming that person's identity, typically in order to access resources or obtain credit and other benefits in that person's name...
, since it is interconnected with so many other forms of identification, and because people asking for it treat it as an authenticator
Authentication is the act of confirming the truth of an attribute of a datum or entity...
. The SSN is generally required by financial institutions to set up bank account
A Bank account is a financial account recording the financial transactions between the customer and the bank and the resulting financial position of the customer with the bank .-Account types:...
s, credit card
A credit card is a small plastic card issued to users as a system of payment. It allows its holder to buy goods and services based on the holder's promise to pay for these goods and services...
s, and obtain loans, partially because it is assumed that no one except the person to whom it was issued will know it.
Exacerbating the problem of using the social security number as an identifier is the fact that the social security card contains no biometric
Biometrics As Jain & Ross point out, "the term biometric authentication is perhaps more appropriate than biometrics since the latter has been historically used in the field of statistics to refer to the analysis of biological data " . consists of methods...
identifiers of any sort, making it essentially impossible to tell whether a person using a certain SSN is truly the person to whom it was issued without relying on some other means of documentation (which may itself have been falsely procured through use of the fraudulent SSN). Congress has proposed federal laws that will restrict the use of SSNs for identification and ban their use for a number of commercial purposes, e.g. rental applications.
The IRS offers alternatives to SSNs in some places where providing untrusted parties with identification numbers is essential. Tax preparers can acquire a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) to include on their client's tax returns (as part of signature requirements). Day care services have tax benefits, and even a sole proprietor should give parents an EIN (employer identification number) to use on their tax return.
The Social Security Administration has suggested that, if asked to provide his or her Social Security number, a citizen should ask which law requires its use.
Identity confusion has also occurred due to the use of local Social Security Numbers by the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau, whose numbers overlap with those of residents of New Hampshire and Maine.
In accordance with §7213 of the 9/11 Commission Implementation Act of 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act
The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 , , is a 236-page Act of Congress, signed by President George W. Bush, that broadly affects US federal terrorism laws. In juxtaposition with the single-subject rule, the act is composed of several separate titles with varying subject...
, there is a limit to the number of replacement Social Security cards one may receive: up to three replacement cards per calendar year and ten in a life
Life is a characteristic that distinguishes objects that have signaling and self-sustaining processes from those that do not, either because such functions have ceased , or else because they lack such functions and are classified as inanimate...
The Social Security number is a nine-digit number in the format "AAA-GG-SSSS". The number is divided into three parts.
The Area Number, the first three digits, is assigned by the geographical region. Prior to 1973, cards were issued in local Social Security offices around the country and the Area Number represented the office code in which the card was issued. This did not necessarily have to be in the area where the applicant lived, since a person could apply for their card in any Social Security office. Since 1973, when SSA began assigning SSNs and issuing cards centrally from Baltimore
Baltimore is the largest independent city in the United States and the largest city and cultural center of the US state of Maryland. The city is located in central Maryland along the tidal portion of the Patapsco River, an arm of the Chesapeake Bay. Baltimore is sometimes referred to as Baltimore...
, the area number assigned has been based on the ZIP code
ZIP codes are a system of postal codes used by the United States Postal Service since 1963. The term ZIP, an acronym for Zone Improvement Plan, is properly written in capital letters and was chosen to suggest that the mail travels more efficiently, and therefore more quickly, when senders use the...
in the mailing address provided on the application for the original Social Security card. The applicant's mailing address does not have to be the same as their place of residence. Thus, the Area Number does not necessarily represent the State of residence of the applicant, neither prior to 1973, nor since.
Generally, numbers were assigned beginning in the northeast
The Northeastern United States is a region of the United States as defined by the United States Census Bureau.-Composition:The region comprises nine states: the New England states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont; and the Mid-Atlantic states of New...
and moving south and westward, so that people on the East Coast had the lowest numbers and those on the West Coast had the highest numbers. As the areas assigned to a locality are exhausted, new areas from the pool are assigned, so some states have noncontiguous groups of numbers.
The middle two digits are the Group Number. The Group Numbers range from 01 to 99. However, they are not assigned in consecutive order. For administrative reasons, group numbers are issued in the following order:
- ODD numbers from 01 through 09
- EVEN numbers from 10 through 98
- EVEN numbers from 02 through 08
- ODD numbers from 11 through 99
As an example, Group Number 98 will be issued before 11.
The last four digits are Serial Numbers. They represent a straight numerical sequence of digits from 0001-9999 within the group.
On June 25, 2011, the SSA changed the SSN assignment process to "SSN randomization". SSN randomization will affect the SSN assignment process in the following ways:
- It will eliminate the geographical significance of the first three digits of the SSN, currently referred to as the Area Number, by no longer allocating the Area Numbers for assignment to individuals in specific states.
- It will eliminate the significance of the highest Group Number and, as a result, the High Group List will be frozen in time and can be used for validation of SSNs issued prior to the randomization implementation date.
- Previously unassigned Area Numbers will be introduced for assignment excluding Area Numbers 000, 666 and 900-999.
- Note: Individual Taxpayer Identification Number
An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number is a United States tax processing number issued by the Internal Revenue Service. It is a nine-digit number that begins with the number 9 and has a range of 70 to 99 in the fourth and fifth digit, example 9XX-70-XXXX or 9XX-99-XXXX...
s (ITINs) are issued by the Internal Revenue Service
The Internal Revenue Service is the revenue service of the United States federal government. The agency is a bureau of the Department of the Treasury, and is under the immediate direction of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue...
(IRS), so they are not affected by this SSA change.
Exhaustion and re-use
The Social Security Administration does not reuse social security numbers. It has issued over 450 million since the start of the program, and at a use rate of about 5.5 million per year and says it has enough to last several generations without reuse or changing the number of digits.
Prior to June 25, 2011, a valid SSN could not have an area number between 734 and 749, or above 772, the highest area number which the Social Security Administration has allocated. Effective June 25, 2011 assigns SSNs randomly and allows for the assignment of area numbers between 734 and 749 and above 772 through the 800s. This should not be confused with Tax Identification Numbers which include additional area numbers..
There are also special numbers which will never be allocated:
- Numbers with all zeros in any digit group (000-##-####, ###-00-####, ###-##-0000).
- Numbers of the form 666-##-#### (see 666).
- Numbers from 987-65-4320 to 987-65-4329 are reserved for use in advertisements.
The SSA publishes the last group number used for each area number. Since group numbers are allocated in a regular (if unusual) pattern, it is possible to identify an unissued SSN that contains an invalid group number. Despite these measures, many fraudulent SSNs cannot easily be detected using only publicly available information. In order to do so there are many online services that provide SSN validation.
Unlike many similar numbers, no check digit
A check digit is a form of redundancy check used for error detection, the decimal equivalent of a binary checksum. It consists of a single digit computed from the other digits in the message....
SSNs invalidated by use in advertising
SSNs used in advertising have rendered those numbers invalid. One famous instance of this occurred in 1938 when the E. H. Ferree Company in Lockport, New York
Lockport is a city in Niagara County, New York, United States. The population was 21,165 at the 2010 census. The name is derived from a set of Erie canal locks within the city. Lockport is the county seat of Niagara County and is surrounded by the town of Lockport...
, decided to promote its product by showing how a Social Security card would fit into its wallet
A wallet, or billfold, is a small, flat case that is used to carry personal items such as cash, credit cards, identification documents , photographs, business cards and other paper or laminated cards...
s. A sample card, used for display purposes, was placed in each wallet, which was sold by Woolworth and other department stores across the country. The wallet manufacturer's vice president and treasurer Douglas Patterson thought it would be clever to use the actual SSN of his secretary, Hilda Schrader Whitcher.
Even though the card was printed in red (the real card is printed in blue) and had "Specimen" printed across the front, many people used the SSN. The Social Security Administration's account of the incident also claims that the fake card was half the size of a real card, despite a miniature card's being useless for its purpose and despite Whitcher's holding two cards of apparently identical size in the accompanying photograph. Over time, the number that appeared (078-05-1120) has been claimed by a total of over 40,000 people as their own. The SSA initiated an advertising campaign stating that it was incorrect to use the number. (Hilda Whitcher was issued a new SSN.) However, the number was found to be in use by 12 individuals as late as 1977.
More recently, the CEO of LifeLock
LifeLock Inc. which was founded in 2005, is an American identity theft protection company.According to the LifeLock website, for a minimum fee of $10 a month, the LifeLock Identity Alert system can identify fraudulent applications for some forms of credit and non-credit related services...
(Todd Davis) has included his SSN, 457-55-5462, in advertisements as an attempt to prove the company's ability to prevent identity theft. The number has been used fraudulently many times since the ads were published.
- Death Master File
The Death Master File is a computer database file made available by the United States Social Security Administration since 1980. It is known commercially as the Social Security Death Index...
- Tax File Number
Tax File Number is an 8 or 9 digit number issued by the Australian Taxation Office to each taxpayer to identify that taxpayer's Australian tax dealings. When it was introduced in 1988, individuals received a 9 digit TFN and non-individuals were issued an 8 digit TFN. Now both are issued 9 digit...
- Cadastro de Pessoas Físicas
The CPF is a number attributed by the Brazilian revenue agency to both Brazilians and resident aliens who pay taxes or take part, direct or indirectly, in activities that provide revenue for any of the dozens of different types of taxes existing in Brazil...
- Uniform civil number
The uniform civil number is a 10-digit unique number assigned to each Bulgarian citizen or resident foreign national. It serves as a national identification number. An EGN is assigned to Bulgarians at birth, or when a birth certificate is issued...
- Social Insurance Number
A social insurance number is a number issued in Canada to administer various government programs. The SIN was created in 1964 to serve as a client account number in the administration of the Canada Pension Plan and Canada's varied employment insurance programs. In 1967, Revenue Canada started...
- INSEE code
The INSEE code is a numerical indexing code used by the French National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies to identify various entities, including communes, départements...
The kennitala is a unique national identification number used by the Icelandic government to identify individuals and organisations in Iceland, administered by the National Registry . Kennitölur are issued to Icelandic citizens at birth, and to foreign nationals resident in Iceland upon registration...
- Permanent account number
Permanent Account Number is unique alphanumeric combination issued to all juristic entities identifiable under the Indian Income Tax Act 1961. It is issued by the Indian Income Tax Department under the supervision of the Central Board for Direct Taxes and is almost equivalent to a national...
- PPS number
- Italian fiscal code card
The Italian fiscal code card, officially known as Italy's Codice Fiscale, is the tax code card in Italy; similar to a Social Security Number card in the United States. The tax code in Italy is an alphanumeric code of 16 characters...
- Unique Population Registry Code
- NHI Number
The National Health Index number is the unique person identifier used within the New Zealand health system. It is technically not a number but rather an alphanumeric identifier consisting of 7 characters, with three letters and four numbers...
- National Registration Identity Card
The National Registration Identity Card is the identity document in use in Singapore...
- NIE Number
The NIE Number is a tax identification number in Spain, known in Spanish as the “Número de Identificación de Extranjero”.The NIE Number is issued by the National Police of Spain and in accordance to Spanish law is required for the purchase or sale of any real estate, vehicle, or boat within Spain...
- National Insurance number
The National Insurance number is a number used in the United Kingdom in the administration of the National Insurance or social security system. It is also used for some purposes in the UK tax system...