Probe Finds Agency Vulnerable to ID Theft

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The Social Security Administration (search)'s policies for issuing identification cards and numbers to infants, foreign students and citizens who report lost or stolen cards leave the agency vulnerable to identity thieves.

Congressional investigators at the General Accounting Office (search), working undercover, were able to use false documents to obtain fraudulent driver's licenses and get Social Security numbers for fake children.

The investigators were to present their findings to a House subcommittee on Thursday.

Social Security Administration officials want to press lawmakers at the hearing for legislation to keep Social Security numbers out of public records provided by state and local governments. The agency also wants to ban the sale of the numbers and limit their use in the private sector.

"The use of the SSN as a student or patient identification number, as part of a car rental contract or to rent a video, must be curtailed," said James G. Huse Jr., the agency's inspector general.

Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr., R-Fla., chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees the Social Security system, said he will introduce legislation to remedy those and other vulnerabilities. "Identity theft (search) is the fastest growing white-collar crime, and no one is immune," he said.

Identity thieves use Social Security and credit card numbers to establish false names or citizenship, purchase goods or fraudulently apply for credit.

Congressional investigators posed as new parents and used fake birth certificates and baptismal certificates to obtain Social Security numbers for infants.

They also used Social Security numbers of dead people to get driver's licenses. A program designed to verify the numbers for state driver's license facilities failed to catch the problems.

In other cases, investigators found that the agency does not require workers to check the authenticity of documents used to get Social Security numbers.

Foreign students applying for a number must show proof that they are enrolled in school full-time, but Social Security workers are not required to check the documents with schools or employers.

U.S. citizens who want to replace lost or stolen cards do not have to prove their citizenship. They can use cards for school identification, church membership or health insurance to apply for a new Social Security card.

Investigators found that 70 percent of the cards issued last year were replacements for lost or stolen cards. There is no limit on replacement cards, and investigators believe identity thieves are able to request multiple copies and sell them to non-citizens.