Keeping Your Social Security Number Secure

You can’t, so forget it. We’ve been around too long, long before anyone thought social security numbers should be kept secret. Surely, our name and social security number already appear together on some digital list after all these years. I have seen such lists of others.

I am cleaning out my attic, and I am searching through the financial receipts for any sign of an obvious social security number. I am ready to give up, considering it to be an impossible task. Just when I think I’ve uncovered them all, I recognize the familiar digits, perhaps prefixed with numbers or letters and now called an Account Number. In the 1980s, they were everywhere. Even bank deposit receipts had them (and my wife kept every one to this day). Banks relied on them because each number is unique, but names may not be (there could be several Bill Smiths, but each would have his own social security number, thus avoiding suffixes such as Jr, Sr, III, etc., or confusion about who was meant).

The social security number was once used only for identification (I am the Roger Walck in Wilmington, not Seattle), not authentication (I really am Roger Walck, not an imposter). This is a big difference. Authentication is like a password and requires secrecy; identification does not. When we were first assigned social security numbers, they were only for identification.

I don’t think anyone relies on social security numbers for authentication, anyway. Just this morning, I was at a medical lab having my blood drawn for an annual checkup. Suddenly, out of the blue, the girl (in her 50s) recording my information on her computer terminal, asked me when my birthday was. “May 10th, 1936,” I said quickly.

“Good,” she replied. Clearly, she was using my birth date as one last check that I was who I claimed to be. All this for a blood test! Who would lie for that? (She later explained to me that someone else might try to use my Medicare medical insurance, but I figure that’s up to the government to worry about.)

She was a black woman. Somewhere I read Thank God for black women. Most of us enter this world and leave it while in their care, just when we are the most helpless. So, ladies, I thank you, too. (I hope my meconium was not a problem for you.)

Many years ago, I got my 10-speed bike with special components. A bike magazine said these valuable components are easily removed, even if the bike itself is securely chained to something immovable like a telephone pole. To prevent theft, I should engrave my social security number on each component. I did, and to this day, you can see (in the right light) my social security number engraved dozens of times all over the bike—on the pedals, the crank shafts, handlebars, breaks, chain rings, rims, etc. I was very thorough.

I expect when I am standing at the Golden Gate, Saint Peter will ask for photo i.d., but not my social security number. So, please bury my certified driver’s license with me. You can throw out my social security card.

About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
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