Changing Your Social Security Number
Effective November 4, 1998, the Social Security Administration (SSA) changed its existing policy of assigning new Social Security numbers (SSN) to victims of harassment, abuse, or life endangerment, including victims of domestic violence, to make it easier to obtain new SSNs. The change in policy was designed to make it easier for these individuals to elude their abusers and reduce the risk of further violence. Since its implementation, many questions and concerns have arisen about potential risks to individuals who may not be fully aware of the issues involved in obtaining a new Social Security number. This information alert will attempt to address those issues.
What You Should Know If You Are Thinking About Applying For A New Social Security Number.
Potential Impact of Changing Identity/ Social Security Numbers
BE AWARE - Changing the SSN should not be looked upon as the key to safety. Third parties can cross-reference the new SSN with the old number, as allowed by their statutes, policies and procedures. In Addition, the victim may experience less freedom to travel (due to lack of documents), which can raise potential safety issues.
REMEMBER - Getting a new Social Security number is only one part of a safety plan. It is recommended that when applying for a new Social Security number, the victim take evidence that shows a pro-active intent/plan to evade the abuser. This evidence may include a safety plan, which includes making a name change, getting an unlisted telephone number, moving to another address, changing jobs.
A victim must understand that changing identity, including the SSN, is a life-altering decision. It is important to keep in mind the potential impact of these changes, such as:
SSA does not invalidate or destroy the original SSN when a new SSN is assigned. The original and new SSNs are cross-referred in SSA's records to make sure that the individual gets credit for all earnings and to ensure the integrity of Social Security's programs. SSA maintains the confidentiality of all its records and will not disclose information about an individual's SSN without the individual's consent, unless required by law to do so.
SSA requires that each individual requesting information about him/herself properly identify him/herself as the subject of the record. An individual requesting information in person must present documentary evidence. An individual requesting information over the phone must provide six pieces of identifying information, which SSA can verify from its records.
NOTE: SSA has added an extra layer of security when an SSN has been assigned based on harassment, abuse, or life endangerment. SSA has implemented procedures to prevent inappropriate/erroneous disclosure of SSN information over the phone when a new number has been assigned in these situations, which includes domestic violence. The caller will be advised to go to the local field office for an in-person interview and properly identify him/herself as the subject of the record before SSN information will be disclosed.
SSA's Cross Referral and Disclosure Policies
SSA, as required by law, must disclose the new SSN information to other government agencies such as:
Government agencies administering entitlement, heath and welfare programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, veterans benefits, military pension, and civil service annuities, black lung, housing student loans, railroad retirement benefits and food stamps;
Internal Revenue Service for federal tax administration;
Department of Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service to identify and locate aliens in the U.S.;
Selective Service System for draft registration;
Department of Health and Human Services for child support enforcement purposes;
State motor vehicles agencies that use the number in issuing drivers' licenses to verify the Social Security numbers, as authorized by the Social Security Act;
Congressional representatives if they request information to answer questions you ask them.
Information provided to SSA may be used to match records by computer. Matching programs, which are allowed by law, compare SSA records with those of other Federal, State, or local government agencies to determine whether a person qualifies for benefits paid by the Federal government.
Third Party Cross-Referral and Disclosure Policies
IMPORTANT NOTE: Credit Bureaus and other third parties also have the ability to cross-reference SSNs in their data bases. Third parties also share information maintained in their data bases. SSA has no control over what uses third parties make of an individual's SSN. Therefore, it is important to take steps to protect the new number. (See the "Protecting the New SSN" section below.)
Applying for a New SSN
Take the following steps to apply for a new SSN:
Make an appointment to be interviewed in person at an SSA field office by calling 1-800-772-1213(voice) or 1-800-325-0778(TTY) or go directly to an SSA field office for the in-person interview.
If the SSA representative at the Social Security office is not aware of the current policy for assigning new SSNs in harassment, abuse, or life endangerment situations, refer the representative to Program Operations Manual System (POMS) chapter RM 00205.
If there are any problems applying for the new SSN, ask to speak with a supervisor or the field office manager. If, after going through all of these steps, you are still experiencing difficulty with your local office, contact NCADV's Public Policy Office at 202-745-1211 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be prepared to complete a statement explaining the need for a new number and a Form SS-5 (Application for a Social Security Card).
Take evidence of age, identity, and U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status, such as a birth certificate and driver's license.
If the client has a new name, take one or more documents identifying him/her by both the old name on SSA's records and the new names. A single document, such as a court order for a name change could be used to show both the old and new name.
Two separate documents, such as a drivers license, employer ID card, passport, insurance policy, military record, divorce record, school ID card could be used to show the old and new names. (A birth certificate is not an identity document.)
Take original documents or copies certified by the custodian of the record. Photocopies and notarized copies of documents are not acceptable.
If a victim wants new SSNs for his/her children, take evidence showing he/she has legal custody of those children. SSA will not assign one parent a new SSN to deny the other parent court-ordered visitation privileges or otherwise assist one parent from hiding the child from the other parent. The parent requesting the new SSN needs to consider whether a new SSN will help him/her elude the harasser/abuser if the harasser/abuser is the other parent with visitation rights.
Take all evidence documenting the harassment/abuse. SSA will assist him/her in obtaining any additional corroborating evidence, if needed. The best evidence of abuse comes from third parties, such as police, medical facilities or doctors and describes the nature and extent of the domestic violence.
Other evidence might include court restraining orders; letters from shelters; letters and/or affidavits from family members, friends, counselors, or others with knowledge of the domestic violence.
Protecting the new SSN
If the application is approved and a new number is assigned, SSA will keep the new number and records confidential. SSA will not furnish the number to unauthorized third parties. (Note that SSA is authorized to provide the new SSN to agencies and organizations listed under the "SSA's Cross Referral and Disclosure Policies" section of this Information Alert.) Therefore, victims of harassment, abuse, or life endangerment must be careful about sharing the new number with those who ask for it. Here are some suggestions on how to minimize the number of organizations that will have access to the new SSN:
Employers and financial institutions will likely need the SSN for wage and tax reporting purposes. Other private businesses may need the SSN to do a credit check, such as when applying for a car loan. Sometimes, however, they simply want the SSN for general record keeping. It is not necessary to give a business the SSN just because they ask for it. However, a business may not provide the service or benefit if a SSN is not provided.
These questions will help the individual decide whether sharing the SSN with the business is worth the service or benefit. If someone asks for the SSN, ask the following questions:
Why do you need my SSN?
How will my SSN be used?
What law requires me to give you my SSN?
What will happen if I don't give you my SSN?
Before revealing any personally identifying information, find out how it will be used and whether it will be shared by others. Ask if there is a choice about the use of personal information: can it be kept confidential?
Do not give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless the contact was self-initiated or you know who you are dealing with.
Keep items with personal information in a safe place. Tear or shred copies of credit applications or any documents that contain identity information before discarding them.
Find out who has access to your personal information at work and verify that the record is kept in a secure location.
Give your SSN only when absolutely necessary. Ask to use other types of identifiers when possible.
Do not carry your SSN card; keep it in a secure place to prevent loss or theft.
The above list contains only a few suggestions on how to keep one's identity and SSN safe. Keep in mind that people can be located in many other ways. These include being tracked by bank or credit records and telephone records of family and friends still in contact with the victim. All victims must realize the importance of keeping their records documenting domestic abuse with them so that their safety will not be compromised because they must go back to their former lives to obtain sufficient documentation of abuse to support an application for a new SSN.
Frequently Asked Questions with Answers Provided by SSA
Who should you contact if the SSA representative at the local office is not aware of the current policy for assigning new SSNs in harassment, abuse, or life endangerment situations, which includes domestic violence?
If the SSA representative at the Social Security office is not aware of the current policy for assigning new SSNs in harassment, abuse, or life endangerment situations, first refer the representative to SSA's instructions in Program Operations Manual System (POMS) chapter RM 00205. If there are any problems applying for the new SSN, ask to speak with a supervisor or the field office manager.
Should a person change his/her name before contacting SSA for a new number?
Changing one's name is one of the important steps a victim needs to take for personal protection. But changing one's name and SSN are just two steps in a person's safety plan. We encourage other steps to be taken as well, such as changing addresses, changing schools, and/or changing jobs.
Since SSA assigns a SSN based on the name shown on the identity document submitted with the application for a new number, it is best that the applicant have a document identifying him/her by the new name when applying for the new number. SSA will not assign a third number just because the individual later changes his/her name. Rather, the records will be updated and a corrected card will be issued showing the new name and the current SSN.
What protections does SSA have in place so that third parties cannot access the new Social Security Number?
SSA has added an extra layer of security when an SSN has been assigned based on harassment, abuse, or life endangerment. SSA has implemented procedures to prevent inappropriate/erroneous disclosure of SSN information over the phone when a new number has been assigned in these situations, which includes domestic violence. The caller will be advised to go to the local field office for an in-person interview and properly identify him/herself as the subject of the record before SSN information will be disclosed.
How accessible is the new number from the old number and vice versa?
SSA employees with proper clearances have access to cross-reference information, regardless of the reason why an individual has more than one SSN. This information is necessary to conduct SSA business. This is important information so you can make the most educated decision about your safety needs and options.