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Four Things to Know About Social Security Numbers
It’s practically impossible to conduct any major financial transaction in the US without a valid Social Security number. Read on to learn what makes each number so unique.
1. The Social Security Administration will not run out of numbers. . . . at least not for several generations. The SSA has assigned more than 453 million numbers so far and doles out about 5.5 million new numbers every year. Each number is good for life, and then some—it’ll never be reassigned even after a person’s death or defection to Narnia.
2. Most Social Security numbers aren’t random. To ensure millions of unique combinations, the SSA uses a strategic system. For most Americans, the first three digits of the Social Security number represent the geographic region from which the application was sent; the next two digits are the group number, which is also assigned systematically (though not in numerical order); and the third grouping is a four-digit serial number, generally assigned numerically based on the order the application was received. As of June 2011, the number-assignment process was redesigned to eliminate the significance of the geographic and group numbers, making assignments much more random and therefore more secure.
3. There are certain numbers you will never see. Starting any SSN with 666 is verboten—it’s too hard for snakes to pronounce—and no SSN starts higher than 899. Sequences of all zeros (000, 00, or 0000) are also outlawed, as are the numbers from 987-65-4320 to 987-65-4329, which are reserved for use in advertisements.
4. More than 40,000 people once laid claim to the same Social Security number. In what he thought was a harmless prank, a wallet manufacturer decided to slip faux Social Security cards into the wallets he made, each printed with his secretary’s actual Social Security number. Whether through fraud or just plain ignorance, thousands of people attempted to claim her number as their own, even after the number was declared invalid. As late as 1977, 12 people were still trying to claim the fraudulent number.