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Compliance and Legislation Update - Randomizing Social Security Numbers

By Michael Klazema on 11/3/2010

The situation

Everyone is familiar with the basic format of a Social Security Number—3 digits, 2 digits, 4 digits.  Each of these sets of numbers have historically had significance more than simple randomization, though.  Since the inception of SSNs in 1936, the first three digits have indicated area, the second two have indicated group, and the final four have been random and are known as a serial number.  Beginning in 1972, when SSNs started to be issued by a central location (instead of the traditional field offices in each state), the three-digit area number indicated state as determined by the zip code provided on the application.

This means that, for as long as SSNs have been in existence, you could determine someone’s origin based on the first three numbers.  It’s as simple as 261 is a Floridian, 303 a Hoosier, 134 a native New Yorker, and 387 a Cheesehead.

Starting around June 25, 2011, this will no longer be true.  Instead, the SSA will start handing out SSNs on a purely random basis—In part to fight identity theft and in part because there just aren’t enough possible numbers in some areas.

The forecast

This will not necessitate a direct reaction from you, however this will cause some issues when it comes to SSN validation.  Currently, the SSA issues a monthly table called the High Group List that shows the assigned states and issuance range for the first five digits of an SSN.  This table is used to determine the validity of an SSN but, once the patterns are gone, this table can no longer be updated.

So what does this mean to you?  For the most part, our process will not change—let’s face it, the majority of the people receiving these new format SSNs won’t be entering the workforce for another 15 years at best.  The real difference is in those who are being issued new SSNs for any reason other than birth, from recovering from a stolen identity to immigration. 

While changes such as these may cause some initial confusion, change also breeds innovation.  Currently, backgroundchecks.com is working on a process for validating SSNs that fall into this category, such as the possibility of supplementing these searches as necessary.  As always, we will keep you informed of any new developments so that you can tailor your screening program as necessary.

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