Government Moves Away from SSN as Identifier

The Department of Defense proclaims, “The national security depends on our defense installations and facilities being in the right place, at the right time, with the right qualities and capacities to protect our national resources.” But by relying on Social Security numbers as primary identifiers, this same organization puts the identities of soldiers and their families at risk.

Last month, four West Point professors released a journal article arguing, “Despite the Defense Department’s recent advances in protecting personally identifiable information (PII) such as Social Security numbers, the military continues to have a ‘cultural disregard’ for PII.” The professors also pointed out that since the first digits of a Social Security number can be deduced based on birth year and location, restricting use to the last four digits does not adequately preclude identity theft.

In 2007, an Office of Management and Budget memo ordered agencies to eliminate all nonessential uses of Social Security numbers, and the Department of Defense is currently working on limiting its use of the numbers.

If you are a soldier or have a family member away on leave, there are two ways to protect yourself or your family member:

1. Place an “active duty alert” on your credit report. To place or remove an active duty alert, call all three of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Each will require proof of the soldier’s identity, which may include their Social Security number, name, address, and other personal information.

Equifax: 1-800-525-6285

Experian: 1-888-397-3742

TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289

2. Whether or not you are a member of the military, consider subscribing to an identity theft protection service, which offers proactive identity surveillance, lost wallet protection, and alerts when suspicious activity is detected on your accounts. For additional tips, visit

Robert Siciliano is a McAfee consultant and identity theft expert. See him discuss identity theft on YouTube. (Disclosures)