SSN Origins

Social Security Number Origins

The History of Social Security

According to SSA historians, the social security program began with the Social Security Act of 1935, originally titled the Economic Security Act. The term "Social Security" was coined in the United States by activist Abraham Epstein, who led a group called the American Association for Social Security.

Social Security taxes and benefit payments began in January 1937. Initially the government paid retirement benefits only to a family's primary worker, but in 1939 it added survivor's benefits and benefits for the retiree's spouse and children. Disability benefits began in 1956, and in 1965 Congress signed Medicare into law. The Civil Service Commission adopted the SSN as an official federal employee identifier in 1961, and the Internal Revenue Service adopted it as the official taxpayer ID number in 1962.

While the Social Security Act did not specify the use of numbered cards, it did call for the formation of a record-keeping plan. The first group of SSNs were assigned and distributed through 45,000 local post offices across the United States, since the SSA had not yet developed its current network of 1,300 field offices. The cards themselves were made in more than 1,000 post offices designated as "typing centers."

Between November 1936 and June 1937, more than 30 million SSN applications were processed. First, the SSA distributed SS-4 applications to employers, asking them to report the number of employees in their businesses.

Then, the SSA sent the appropriate number of SS-5 forms to employees for them to complete. When the employees returned these forms to the post offices and typing centers, the SSA assigned SSNs and typed them up on the first Social Security cards.

Fred Happel, the New York artist who had created the Flying Tigers logo used during World War II, provided the design for the cards ( History has a picture of the original design). The post offices sent these number assignments (on form OA-702) to the master files at Social Security headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland

Since 1973, social security numbers have been issued by the Social Security central office.

The first three (3) digits of a person's social security number are determined by the ZIP Code of the mailing address shown on the application for a social security number.

Prior to 1973, social security numbers were assigned by our field offices. The number merely established that his/her card was issued by one of our offices in that State. See also High Group List of SSN's.

That first Social Security record was assigned to a 23-year-old New York man, John David Sweeney, Jr.. Ironically, Sweeney died in 1974 at the age of 61 without ever receiving any Social Security benefits (full retirement age was initially set at 65; today, benefits are reduced by five-ninths of 1 percent for each month you are retired before 65, up to a maximum of 20 percent for people who retire the month they reach 62). Sweeney's widow, however, did receive benefits until she died eight years later.


The chart below shows the first 3 digits of the social security numbers assigned throughout the United States and its possessions. See "Note" at bottom of page.

A social security number is made up of 3 parts called (1) the AREA

(2) (000), GROUP (00), and (3) SERIAL(0000).

First, the AREA (000) has one of two meanings, depending on when you got your number.

If you received your social security card before 1972, the area number shows what state you APPLIED for your card in.

If you received your social security card after 1972, the area number shows the state you RESIDED in at the time you applied.

New Hampshire




Rhode Island


New York

New Jersey





West Virginia

North Carolina

South Carolina


261-267 589-595









425-428 587-588










North Dakota

South Dakota







New Mexico











District of Columbia

Virgin Islands

580-584 596-599
Puerto Rico


American Samoa

Philippine Islands

Railroad Board**

Enumeration at Entry

NOTE: The same area, when shown more than once, means that certain numbers have been transferred from one State to another, or that an area has been divided for use among certain geographic locations. Any number beginning with 000 will NEVER be a valid SSN. The information in our records about an individual is confidential by law and cannot be disclosed except in certain very restricted cases permitted by regulations.

650-699 unassigned, for future use
700-728 Railroad workers through 1963, then discontinued
729-799 unassigned, for future use
800-999 not valid SSNs.
Some sources have claimed that numbers above 900 were used when some state programs were converted to federal control, but current SSA documents claim no numbers above 799 have ever been used.

As of Feb 10, 1999 the most recent area numbers to have been assigned include 650-658, 667-675, and 680.

This list is from the SSA's web site, which shows the highest group number assigned for each area.

How Social Security Numbers Work

Common SSN Questions

In this section, you'll find basic SSN information and instructions on how to get an SSN or a new SSN card.

1. Does everyone have to have a Social Security number?

According to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS), any U.S. citizen (over age 18) who receives income must have an SSN. Employers are required to use that SSN to report the individual's income to the IRS.

Social Security coverage is mandatory -- you can't drop out. To those who claim their private retirement plans are better, the SSA points to its disability coverage and provisions for survivors, coverage it claims provides greater protection for families than what most private pensions provide.

2. Process For Employment of Foreign Nationals Without Permanently Assigned Social Security Numbers: Click Her

3. Do I need a number for my child?

Applying for a number for your child is strictly voluntary. However, if you plan to claim the child as a deduction on your income taxes, you'll need to get him or her a number. Hospitals are making it easy to sign your baby up when you complete his or her name papers, but you can also wait until later and apply directly to the SSA.

It's a good idea to go ahead and get SSNs for your children -- you'll need them if you want to open savings accounts in their names, get them medical coverage, or let them take advantage of government services.

Most people today receive their SSNs at birth, and, as a parent, you will certainly encounter many forms asking for your child's SSN.

4. What happens to my social security number after my death?

According to the SSA, SSNs are not recycled. Upon an individual's death, the number is removed from the active files and is not reused. Recycling numbers might become an issue someday, but not any time soon -- statisticians say that the nine-digit SSN allows for approximately one billion possible combinations.

5. What if my name changes or my card is lost or stolen?

In any of these instances, you need to complete a Form SS-5, which you can download from the SSA site. Your new number will be the same as your old number, but to get a replacement card you will need to have proof of identity, such as:

  • Driver's license
  • Employer ID card
  • Marriage license or divorce decree
  • Military records
  • Adoption records
  • Passport
  • School ID card
  • Health insurance card (Medicare card not accepted)

To change your name on your card, you need documentation showing your old name as well as documentation showing your new name.

For example, if you were newly married, your old Social Security card and your new marriage license would do. Again, your card number will be the same, but your new name will appear on your new card. You can notify the SSA of a change of address by mail or, if you are receiving regular benefits, by calling (800) 772-1213.

6. New SSN?

If you encounter a company that offers to get you a new SSN to clear up your credit, report them to the Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General. It's also a good idea to notify your local Better Business Bureau, consumer affairs and state attorney general's offices.

To apply for a new Social Security card, you must provide (in-person) proof of who you are (birth certificate, school record), your age, and your citizenship or legal alien status. If you were born outside the United States, you must also show proof of citizenship.

Only rarely -- in the event of identity fraud or stalking -- does the SSA assign a person a new SSN. Even in extreme cases, you can get a new SSN (no fee involved) only from the SSA. There are more and more companies claiming they can get you a new SSN (for a fee) to help clear your credit record. There is no way they can legally do this, according to fraud examiners.

For more information on getting a new card, call (800) 772-1213 or visit your local Social Security office. (See the SSA Web site for a list of field offices across the country.)

7. For information on obtaining a New Social security Numbers for Victims of Domestic Violence: Click Here

8. Problems With Your SSN

Because SSNs are unique, lifelong identification numbers, they serve many beneficial functions. However, those same qualities can also make SSNs problematic.

9. Why does it matter if someone knows my SSN?

You are not necessarily required to give your SSN to government agencies asking for it.

These agencies must provide you with a Privacy Act of 1974 Disclosure Notice, which explains which law allows them to ask, whether you are required to answer and what penalties you face if you refuse to provide the number.

If a business or private company insists on knowing your SSN (they are not bound by the restrictions mentioned above), you can choose either to provide it or to take your business elsewhere.

Sharing your SSN is a potential problem because of the many secondary ways we now use SSNs.

During the first few decades that Social Security cards were issued, they contained the phrase "Not to be used for identification." No reinforcing law was passed, however, and since SSNs never change, many institutions -- including hospitals and some banks and brokerage firms -- have found SSNs to be the perfect form of identification.

Some organizations, primarily banks, then began to use SSNs as secret codes or passwords, assuming only the owner would know them. Unfortunately, this is often not the case.

The SSA says that if someone knows your name and your SSN and is a good enough actor to convince a clerk or teller that he has forgotten the account number, he might be allowed to transfer funds or conduct other fraudulent business with your money.

Social Security Fraud Hotline

P.O. Box 17768
Baltimore, MD 21235
(800) 269-0271 (10 a.m.-4 p.m. EST)
Fax: (410) 597-0018

Such inconsistencies in the use of SSNs are at the root of the problem, experts say. Our SSNs might appear on our driver's licenses, on mailing labels and on university reports made available to the public in order to maintain federal funding. As such, they can't safely be used as secret passwords or codes; they're too accessible to too many people.

According to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, identity theft now occurs at a rate of about 400,000 cases a year -- and that number is growing 40 percent annually. Although Internet identity theft is raising a lot of new fears, experts say that low-tech identity theft, often stemming from criminals finding bits of information in stolen mail or garbage, is still the greater threat. (Before you toss that next credit card offer in the trash, shred it so that no one else can apply for credit in your name!)

Experts suggest you take the following steps to lessen your chances of becoming a victim:

Don't carry your Social Security card, passport or birth certificate in your purse or wallet.

Cancel any credit cards you don't use.

Don't share your SSN when it isn't necessary.

(For purchases and business transactions other than banking, trading stock or buying property, it isn't necessary.)

Remove your name from mailing lists.

By calling (888) 5OPT-OUT, you can get your name off the marketing lists of the three primary credit bureaus. (This will, in turn, decrease the number of pre-approved credit offers you receive.)

Request a copy of your Social Security Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement at least every three years to make sure the information in your file is correct. (You can do this online through the SSA Web site.)

Be aware of what's on your credit report -- pull your report once or twice a year to be sure it's correct.

If your bank uses your SSN as a personal identification number (PIN) or as the identifier for banking by phone, write or call to request a different number. If you use the last four digits of your SSN as your ATM PIN, change it to something less predicable (not your birth date!).

If your state Department of Motor Vehicles uses SSNs as driver's license numbers, ask for an alternate number. Most will cooperate.

What if I find out someone else is using my SSN?

First, you should call the police and contact the Social Security Administration Fraud Hotline, which is operated by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), an independent law enforcement agency that investigates violations connected with SSA programs.

These violations include the following:

  • Misuse of an SSN
  • False statements on claims
  • Misrepresentation or concealment of facts affecting eligibility
  • False statements made to obtain an SSN
  • Crimes involving SSA employees
  • Conflict-of-interest and standards-of-conduct violations
  • Mismanagement and/or waste of funds

How 40,000 people used Mrs. Whitcher's SSN for 40 years

If someone has misused your SSN, take heart -- it could be worse.

According to SSA historians, over the course of 40 years more than 40,000 people used secretary Hilda Schrader Whitcher's SSN as their own. In 1937, Whitcher's boss, Douglas Patterson , vice president and treasurer of the wallet-manufacturing company E. H. Ferree, decided to include a demonstration Social Security card in the new line of wallets. To make the false card a better representation of a real Social Security card, he included a real SSN -- his secretary's. The display cards were smaller than actual cards and had the word "specimen" written on them, but many people took the number to be their own SSN anyway. The SSA gave Whitcher a new number and announced that the wallet sample number was not to be used as anybody's SSN.

But some people were still using the number as late as 1977!

You will need to provide detailed information about the crime or fraud being committed against you. Investigators at the Fraud Hotline will review this information and determine the best course of action. If you would rather remain anonymous, you can do so, but this can make solving your problem more difficult. After your initial report, you will be contacted by an investigator for additional information.

The SSA and the OIG do not help with credit problems caused by someone misusing your Social Security number. Instead, you will need to work with credit card companies and credit reporting agencies to correct the problem and alert them that someone has been making fraudulent use of your SSN. The three major credit reporting bureaus are:

  • Equifax - (800) 525-6285
  • TransUnion - (800) 680-7289
  • Experian - (888) 524-3666

Can someone who steals my SSN and identity be prosecuted?

In October 1998, President Bill Clinton signed the Identity Theft and Assumption Deference Act of 1998.

This act makes it a felony to use or transfer the identity (including the SSN) of another person.

Last year, the act was used to successfully prosecute a Wisconsin man for stealing the identity of a Chicago man (he used the man's SSN to get a job that enabled him to steal computer equipment and open bank accounts and file income taxes in the victim's name).

He pled guilty and faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in jail (followed by three years of probation) and a fine of up to $250,000.

In addition to crimes by U.S. citizens -- crimes that are bilking the government out of millions of dollars each year -- agents in the OIG's Strategic Enforcement Division (SED) say they are also targeting scams run by immigrant groups and foreign nationals.

There is a great deal more to learn about the Social Security program, its benefits and what they mean to you. Check out the Social Security Administration Web site for answers to your questions (sign up for the SSA's e-mail newsletter to keep up with changes in Social Security laws and regulations.