I didn’t know the particular piece of information you are about to read until I read an article in which the writer’s social security number was compromised by none other than the Social Security Administration. It all happened because U.S. Territories issue their own social security numbers and a U. S. agency had made a loan.

In fact, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau all have their own Social Security Administrations. The only difference between the numbers is the mainland issues 9 digit numbers and the Territories issue 8 or 7 (Palau) digit numbers.

The fun starts when one of these numbers is entered into a computer. It appears mainland computers are trained – programmed – to add a zero or two zeroes to fill in the eighth and ninth spot. But it doesn’t put the zero(s) at the end or what we would call the ninth number. It puts it/them first.

### Where You Got Your SS Number Makes The Difference

If you obtained your number in Maine or New Hampshire you could be a victim of mistaken identity. Mind you, not identity theft as no one has stolen your number. Mainland computers simply add a zero or two. What compounds this problem is ALL of the U.S. agencies who make loans and/or grants in these three island nations know computers add a zero or two to make up for the ninth digit.

However, none of these agencies, including the SSA itself has taken any steps to correct the problem. Believe it or not, the SSA says that isn’t their problem. Their job is to make the proper credits to wage earner accounts.

### Problem Not Unnoticed

The best guess to date on the number of possible matches is roughly 135,000. Notice I said guess and it was made by the Associated Press. The truth is no one knows how many actually exist.

My thought theology says if that can be done with numbers starting with 0, why not 1 or 2 or 3 or any of them for that matter. It would seem a determined crook could simply erase one or two digits and wreak mayhem on some poor unsuspecting sap on the mainland.

Think about this dear real estate investor. Once one of the government’s agencies makes a loan to someone in the territories with your matching SSN and this persons defaults, guess who is in the hot seat. None other than you.

My number was obtained when I lived on the East Coast and it would appear if they (the people in the territories) moved the 1 and zero that start my account number, I could ostensibly have one heck of a bad hair day. I am not trying to be an alarmist only an informationalist.

You may never face this problem and have absolutely no need to worry. But, knowing it could be on the horizon waiting gives you the ammunition you need to clean up the nasties that will be on your credit report.

### Pointed Fingers

So you know what to expect, here is what the SSA says to do – take it up with the credit bureaus or the FTC. They are not interested in even looking at a possible solution. The FTC says it wasn’t identity theft so there is nothing they can do. They aren’t in the business of fixing computer errors.

I don’t know what the FBI or Justice Department would say but I bet it would parrot the FTC’s statement. This leaves you stranded and alone with absolutely no fingers to the point but maybe for the obvious one.

The credit bureaus report what they are given. They proceed as if you are indeed guilty of the reported acts and put the info on your credit report.

The debt collectors believe what they read so they start calling and mailing and calling and mailing ad nauseum. You must prove yourself innocent and this takes time and money. Maybe all of the money you had set aside for that foreclosure or fixer upper you fell in love with.

Again, forewarned is forearmed and definitely something to think about.

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1. Tim,

Thanks for the explanation. I wish the government programmers knew this and would take a few minutes to fix the problem.

2. Most programmers (or DBA’s) set social security number fields up as numerics because they are ALWAYS numeric which automatically adds a feature which restricts what you can key (0-9) rather than allowing (a-z), (A-Z), (~!@#\$%^&*()_+) etc…

The database also has the ability to automatically overlay an edit mask on the number like “nnn-nn-nnnn” (note the added dashes) so that the programmer doesn’t have to do it every time it’s shown to you (we’re genetically lazy).

Numbers “behave” differently than character fields. Numbers by definition are right-to-left based on the decimal position; character fields are left-to-right.

All numbers have a decimal position just like you learned in school. It’s just that we don’t tend to show them (the period symbol) if they’re aren’t any significant digits to the right of the decimal.

The leading zeros are added to the “left” side of the number just like any other number you key into a computer; so it’s no surprise that the SSN is treated the same. Imagine having to key 000000010.00 (\$10.00) every time (wouldn’t that be a pain?). All fields in a database need to be created to store the largest value even though you may only key one cent, all those leading zeros are in the database, but when you see them they’ve been edited to remove the leading-non-significant-zeros to make it easier to read.

So, it’s not surprising at all that the “mainland computers” or a computer located anywhere on earth (even Palau) behave in a similar fashion. It’s because, if you have at least a few neurons firing, any programmer, located anywhere, will take the short-cut and allow the computer to do what it does best; do some of the work for you.

If you have any questions on how computers work, let me know.

Tim Hawkins
Scotts Valley, CA

3. Very true — the fix would best be done at the Territories by acquiring a unique prefix like 555. They are in a fairly unique situation where the change would affect a fairly small number of people; albeit a bit drastically, but at least they are probably somewhat less tied to the “system”.

We “suffer” in a similar manner when an area code is changed by the NANPA (nanpa.com) in response to phone number demand.

4. Interesting. You would think that they would fix something like that. Especially if any of our common wealths ever moved in to become a state in the union we would have to fix that before we could merge the records together anyway. Kind of sad to hear that they are passing the buck and not fixing the issue though.

-Tyler
.-= TylerÂ´s last blog ..Happy Hour at Portland City Grill =-.