Date: 02 May 88 1958 PDT
From: Les Earnest <LES@SAIL.Stanford.EDU>
Subject: More SS# RISKS
In RISKS 6.76, Stanley Quayle described another intrusive Social Security
Number practice. Here is an account of some of the RISKs of _not_ giving
out your SS# freely. Overall, I find these risks more acceptable than
those on the other side, but there have been times . . .
For the last decade, I have declined to give my social security number to
anyone other than those that are entitled by law to have it. I have been
refused credit on a number of occasions because of this, but have
encountered no serious problems in getting credit that I needed. For
example, I have a full complement of credit cards that have no annual fees.
Some of the larger credit data banks, such as the one operated by TRW,
apparently require the SS# in order to access _anything_. While some
organizations refuse to deal with me, others with more sensible policies
simply check my banking and mortgage references, which show a perfect
credit history, and give me credit. (I have a sneaking suspicion that one
or more of my credit references may have given away my SS# without
authorization, but I know of no way to determine this.)
When I returned to Stanford University in 1985 and signed up for medical
and dental insurance, I was told that the identifier that would be used
for these services was my SS#. "Over my dead body," I said. I pointed
out that doing so would tie my medical records to my government and
financial records and that I preferred to keep these things separate.
The Benefits people expained that "Stanford has contracts with the
insurance companies that require that we give them your Social Security
Number." I pointed out that they had a contract with me to provide
medical insurance, that I consider my SS# to be confidential, and that it
was up to them to solve this problem. I also pointed out that it would be
relatively easy to add one field to the personnel data records for an
"Employee ID" that could be used instead of SS#.
Incidentally, I believe that the insurance companies prefer to use SS#
instead of employee number because it makes it easier for them to cross-
connect medical records from different periods, which is occasionally useful
in fraud investigations. Of course, this same feature also makes it easier
to find medical reports for the purpose of political or other harassment.
The Benefits people dithered over the problem I posed for a couple of
months while I harassed them. They finally decided that instead of
augmenting the Personnel database, which they apparently regarded as
next-to-impossible, they would give me a phoney SS#, which would be
changed to the correct one just before they sent W-2 forms to the
government at the end of the year. I was suspicious that this wouldn't
work and said so, but agreed that it would theoretically meet my needs.
The Benefits office asked one thing of me: that I not tell anyone else
that they were doing this. They were apparently afraid that there would
be a mass of troublemakers who would exceed their capacity to cope. They
subsequently demonstrated that they were not even able to cope with me.
I did manage to get my dental checkups paid for the first year, but I had
a hunch that I was not home free. At the end of the year, I called
Accounting to make sure that my earnings would be reported to the
government under my true SS#. "Oops," was the reply, "We'll send them a
correction on that."
A few months later I received a copy of a letter to Stanford from TIAA-CREF,
which manages my retirement account, asking where the bizarre SS# came from.
Fortunately, they had somehow been able to figure out who I really was.
Things went fairly smoothely after that until Benefits decided to give me
another phoney SS# in 1986. That one caused the dental charges to bounce,
so they gave me another phoney number, which also didn't work. They then
announced that the only way to get those bills paid was for me to use my
true SS#, which they acknowledged they had given to Delta Dental. I sent
them a rather nasty and threatening note and they subsequently managed to
get the bills paid and to make the new phoney SS# work.
I understand that the Personnel Department is now in the process of
converting to Stanford employee numbers instead of SS# as the basic
identifier, which they should have done long ago. I would like to think
that I helped stimulate this conversion, but there is no direct evidence.
It is clear that I brought most of the problems described above on myself.
I would (and probably will) do it again. If you wish to straighten out
the world, you have to do it one piece at a time.