A recent poll conducted by Consumers Union--publisher of "Consumer Reports"--revealed that 89 percent of those surveyed want lawmakers to create laws that restrict the use of Social Security numbers (SSNs).
American citizens are becoming increasingly aware that when they give out their SSNs, they enter into a high-risk situation in which those numbers could be stolen or abused by those who gain access to them. Consumers Union said that "since January 2005, data security breaches have occurred at companies, schools, and government agencies involving an estimated 159 million records of sensitive consumer information, often including Social Security numbers."
According to the survey results, 44 percent of survey participants reported being asked to provide their SSN to potential employers, 36 percent were asked to provide the number to insurance companies, 32 percent were asked to provide the number to government agencies, 28 percent were asked to provide the number to schools, 28 percent were asked to provide the number to common service providers such as cell phone companies and cable TV companies, 17 percent were asked to provide the number to utility companies, and 16 percent were asked to provide the number to a merchant or retailer.
In addition, 42 percent were asked to provide all or part of their SSN over the telephone or Internet. Amazingly, 14 percent discovered that an entity had mailed them correspondence that included their SSN. Exacerbating the problem is the fact that many companies actually sell consumers' private information, including their SSN, to third parties, which greatly increases consumers' overall security risk.
"Americans are clearly concerned that the widespread use of Social Security numbers puts them at risk of fraud and want lawmakers to restrict this practice," said Jeannine Kenney, senior policy analyst with Consumers Union. "We need to get Social Security numbers off the Internet, out of our wallets, and out of our mail to help reduce the threat of identity theft."
Consumers Union filed comments with the Federal Trade Commission, which is reportedly studying private sector collection and use of SSNs. The comments include the Consumers Union survey results. Consumers Union said that SSN privacy bills are pending in Congress, and the Union has also published a privacy bill that it recommends be adopted by individual states.