The connection between SSNs and identity theft and the dangers and limitations of over-reliance on the number as an identifier and authenticator has been wellestablished. Consumers Union’s survey results augment these prior research findings. The poll found that consumers are regularly asked for their SSN by businesses that don’t have
a clear need for it. Although consumers well understand the vulnerabilities associated with giving their SSN to others, most provide it when asked out of fear for the consequences of refusing. Many consumers believe their sensitive information held by others is not secure and support obligations to protect that data and to provide remedies to consumers when security is breached. The data also suggest that SSNs are widely used as
identifiers and passwords, despite their inherent limitations for those purposes. In addition, the poll found that other ID theft vulnerabilities remain due to inclusion of the SSN on cards that consumers carry in their wallet and on postal mail they receive. Finally, federal and state policy makers should adopt new restrictions on the solicitation, use and sale of SSNs and strong requirements for breach notification. These measures not only reduce ID theft vulnerabilities, they are policy measures consumers overwhelmingly support.
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