Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Opinion

Column: Bill adds safeguards for Social Security numbers

You could be at risk.

Every citizen has a Social Security number. We use Social Security numbers to open up credit cards, enroll in school, get a loan, file tax returns, and rent or buy a home. Across the country, Social Security numbers are on nearly 42 million Medicare cards and 8 million identification cards for our military and veterans.

Even if we rarely think about our own Social Security numbers, there is no denying that these numbers are vital to so many aspects of our lives. Our Social Security numbers are linked to each of us and much of our personal information.

In recent years, there has been an increase in reports of people stealing Social Security numbers. Florida has the country's highest per-person rate of reported identity theft, with almost 70,000 people falling prey to identity theft in 2012. These high numbers of identity theft crimes are at the base of many other "rip-offs," including the massive tax fraud scheme uncovered in Tampa Bay two years ago involving more than $468 million in taxpayer money. We have been working in Congress to address this issue with legislation and with local law enforcement to get them the tools they need to crack down.

In addition to stealing your tax refund, if someone can steal your Social Security number and find your name, they can open a credit card and accumulate a large amount of debt, or even take your Medicare payments. Once you figure out that your identity has been stolen, you often have to go through a long process, many times lasting several years, to get a new number and fix all of the damage. It's unnerving, time-consuming and can ruin people's lives through no fault of their own.

We have heard of mail carriers in Tampa robbed at gunpoint for mail that could contain names and Social Security numbers. And just a few months ago, a Polk County school sent incorrectly labeled tax forms to homes of students, with the names and Social Security numbers of other students at the top. Having such easy access to this highly sensitive information, while not always intentional, is always dangerous.

Given the reality and gravity of this threat, we have introduced the Safeguarding Social Security Numbers Act of 2013. It requires the commissioner of Social Security to work with other relevant agency heads in creating and implementing a uniform method to de-identify Social Security numbers that are stored and/or transmitted, particularly over the Internet. Our bill also prohibits federal, state and local governments from displaying in any capacity the full Social Security number of living American citizens to the public.

The Safeguarding Social Security Numbers Act specifically addresses Social Security numbers that are printed on paper or displayed online on public records websites such as land title and court proceedings. Under our legislation, only a few digits of a person's nine-digit Social Security number, if any at all, may be visible. Now nothing prohibits anyone from publicly displaying all nine digits of someone's Social Security number, whether it is on a piece of mail, check or legal document.

When we receive credit card statements, only the last four digits are displayed. This security measure is to protect our money. We believe that our Social Security numbers should be truncated as well in order to protect our identities.

The Safeguarding Social Security Numbers Act of 2013 aims at ensuring a large number of scams — including tax fraud — can be stopped, our personal information remains personal and that people remain safe. This is commonsense, bipartisan legislation to protect all Floridians.

Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, represents Florida's 15th Congressional District, which includes parts of Hillsborough and Polk Counties. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, represents Florida's 14th Congressional District, which includes parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties. They wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

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