The Last 4 Digits of Your SSN: What's It Used For?
Did you know that with just the last four digits of your social security number (SSN), your identity could be stolen? Oddly enough, the truth is that these simple four digits represent the vulnerability or security of your identity. Yikes.
And, that impressive bit of information comes straight from the United States Social Security Administration (SSA), a government entity that has been issuing SSNs since 1936 and that, to date, has generated more than 450 million numbers for native-born citizens and immigrants alike.
What’s the number consist of anyways? Is it just a random series of nine numbers that get pulled out of a hat and assigned to you at birth? Nope! It’s actually a lot more organized and interesting than that. Read on as we break down the meaning of a social security number and explain the importance of the last four numbers.
What is an SSN?
An SSN or social security number is a nine-digit numerical reference issued by the United States government as a form of identification and granted not only to US citizens and permanent residents, but also to temporary residents who work under regulation 205 (c) (2) of the Social Security Law.
Initially, social security numbers were designed to track the employment history of registered citizens in order to obtain Social Security benefits or, if applicable, unemployment assistance. However, over time, the SSN has evolved into an important national identification number for tax, financial, immigration, and many other processes relevant to the United States.
Simply put, if you plan on staying in the US for quite some time, you’ll eventually need an SSN (especially if you’re planning on taking advantage of the country’s social security system!).
What Do Social Security Numbers Mean?
As mentioned above, a social security number isn’t really generated at random. There are three groups of numbers that all have different meanings.
- The first three numbers are referred to as the “area number.” These are assigned based on the geographic region where the card was first applied for.
- The next two numbers in the middle are the “group number.” You’ll see these ranging from 01 to 99 and are simply used to divide all SSNs with the same area number into smaller blocks, which makes administration easier.
- Finally, the last four numbers form together to comprise the “serial number.” This is more specific as it ranges from 0001 to 9999. And, unlike the previous two groups of numbers, these numbers actually are quite unique and random.
Now, you might think, “Well, with that many complexities, it’d be hard for someone to steal my identity with just the last four digits of my SSN.” Right? It might seem that way. However, taking into account recent technological advances, scammers and hackers have made their way to the scene who can use different strategies to extract the last 4 digits of your SSN and thus steal your identity.
With this valuable information, they can steal your money, take away acquired benefits, create credit card accounts, and last but not least use your name for illegal transactions and acts. We definitely don’t want that to happen!
What Are the Last 4 Digits of an SSN Used For?
As you’ve just learned, the last four digits of an SSN are somewhat random. And, it’s important to remember that by law, only a few organizations have the right to use your SSN: your employer, banks, mutual funds, the IRS, and government programs like workers' compensation.
Don’t underestimate the power of an SSN for each and every person with one in the US. It’s essential for the completion of countless processes. The processes include: getting a job, opening financial accounts, enrolling in health insurance, collecting Social Security benefits, obtaining other government services, accessing retirement funds, requesting various public and private services, among many others.
Although it’s important to always be safe and smart about who you’re giving your SSN to, the last four numbers of the SSN are the most important to protect. For this reason, it is recommended not to share it with anyone, not to include it in emails, and not to use it as your security PIN. Your best defense against possible identity theft is to protect the nine digits, but especially the last four.
Is it Safe to Give Someone the Last 4 Digits of an SSN?
Giving someone the last four digits of your SSN could lead to identity theft as this is the direct way to do the most damage to your financial information. Why?
Banks and other official institutions often only request the last four digits of your SSN to confirm your identity. This is because they assume it’s you if the account is already created and only request that you provide your last four digits to confirm.
Don’t believe us? Call your bank and see what they request. Then, be mindful about filling out financial forms online and see what they request as well. More often than not, they’re only asking for the last four digits.
As long as a hacker or scammer has access to other personal information such as your name and address, they can use the last four digits of your SSN (in most cases) to open accounts in your name, steal your money and government benefits, or even get healthcare and tax refunds in your name.
The bottom line? Don’t give your SSN to anybody who doesn’t absolutely need it to approve something like a bank account or loan application. Even when it is requested, double-check to make sure that you’re speaking with a real official from the bank or financial institution. And, never give out your SSN to anybody you don’t know (especially not the last four digits!). Also, be careful about emails and phone calls that request your SSN. No government agency or Social Security Administration will ask for this personal information by making a phone call or emailing you.
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