LifeLock's Coggeshall: Retire Social Security Numbers to Combat Identity Theft

Monday, 18 Aug 2014 10:16 AM

By Michael Kling

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You can blame retailers for constant security breaches and never-ending identity theft. Or you can blame hackers, software companies or the Internet itself. A better idea might be to blame Social Security numbers.

Stephen Coggeshall, the chief analytics and science officer at identity protection firm LifeLock, argues that we must stop using the numbers for identification.

Identity theft starts with a stolen Social Security number, not with a stolen credit card, Coggeshall writes in an article for CNBC. And SSNs are remarkably easy to steal and easy to buy, costing about as much on the black market as a large latte.

Editor's Note:
Seniors Scoop Up Unclaimed $20,500 Checks? (See if You qualify)

The Social Security Administration created the numbers to track Social Security contributions — not to confirm identities, he says. In fact, "Not For Identification" was printed on the cards.

Nevertheless, consumers are asked for SSNs at every turn and their use and misuse has exploded.

Transactions today call for both identification and authentication, Coggeshall explains. For instance, on a website login your user name identifies you and your password authenticates you.

The problem is that SSNs both identify and authenticate us, an impossible combination.

"Once SSNs became ubiquitous as identifiers, they lost all their power as verifiers," he writes. "A number that has never been more exposed — and was never intended to be a secret — is now supposed to be the secret confirmer of our identities."

To combat this problem, we must retire the SSN as an identifier and verifier, he argues, saying the numbers have failed past the point of repair for security purposes.

We need to move our notions of identity protection out of the 1930s and into the 21st century, Coggeshall stresses. "Modern identities aren't physical cards. They live digitally, not physically, and are vulnerable 24/7/365."

We also need a national discussion about indentify protection.

"Ultimately, we need to reach agreement on ways to combine unique identification with independent methods of identity verification."

Few experts advocate a solution as aggressive as halting the use of SSNs for identification. But some Congressmen advocate removing the numbers from Medicare cards in an effort to combat fraud.

"Every senior in America is affected by Medicare fraud, waste and abuse," states House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, in a press release.

"It is devastating for those personally harmed, drives up premiums and hastens insolvency for others. Members from both sides of the aisle have bills and ideas to address the system's deficiencies to better protect seniors from fraud, waste and abuse."

Editor's Note: Seniors Scoop Up Unclaimed $20,500 Checks? (See if You qualify)

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