This story should especially interest North Americans, but residents of all countries where “numbers” are issued should pay attention. Many numbers that have been issued to identify citizens contain far more revealing data than we realize. That is probably because no one back in the day considered possible criminal use.

Here is an example: My own social insurance number begins with three key digits. That just means I turned sixteen in a given time period. But it tells you something if you know the time period that it represents and the country of origin. 

My mother tells me that when she, now 90, turned the same age, she was expected to show up at the Post Office and get a number. No one considered the possibility back then of international fraud. (No one had heard of or even imagined the internet either.) So CNN, a US broadcasting network, asks a key question: What if the information old, unscrambled numbers convey has some value?

The damage from Social Security number theft is real. Criminals use those numbers to steal your identity, ruin your credit and grab your tax refund. It can take years and lawyers to clear this up. And in some cases, criminals use it to fraudulently bill visits to the doctor. That could alter your electronic medical record, which first responders rely on to treat you during emergencies when you’re passed out. It happened to one man in Oregon, according to Bob Gegg at ID Experts, a privacy software company.

This raises an important question: Why are we still using SSNs to verify our identities if they’re so exposed? It stands in complete opposition of what every security expert says about protecting your identity. The best way to prove you’re you is to present something only you know. But SSNs are relatively easy to find. With a proper license, you can buy them.

Yet they call it security.

Today’s systems should use scrambled data, so only people who know exactly how to unscramble a given system can impersonate the user. That narrows down the list of suspects in any given abuse.

Is it easy ? Watch this and decide:

Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author and blogger.

Hat tip: Pando

Denyse O’Leary is an author, journalist, and blogger who has mainly written popular science and social science. Fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan’s description of electronic media as a global village...