SSA software to thwart identity theft

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"Identity Theft"

The Social Security Administration intends to launch a pilot project early

next year that would rely on technology to help verify a person's citizenship.

The project is part of SSA's initiatives to stem the use of fraudulent

Social Security numbers to steal people's proof of identity, said William

Halter, deputy SSA commissioner.

"Identity theft is growing, and we are committed to fixing it," Halter

told an SSA conference Wednesday on identity theft.

James Huse Jr., SSA's inspector general, said a person can show up at

any SSA field office with a tattered but legal copy of a birth certificate

from another state. Usually, the local officers have no way of verifying

whether the document is legitimate.

To combat that situation, Huse said SSA is developing software that

will enable field offices to check the vital statistics departments of states

electronically and swiftly. The pilot begins in January, and the localities

involved will be announced at a future date.

The problem of identity theft has reached "epidemic levels," Huse said.

In 1998, more than 11,000 Social Security numbers were fraudulently

obtained. That number rose to more than 30,000 in 1999, according to Huse.

And the numbers are expected to grow even more as thieves use the Internet

to obtain phony documents and then obtain the Social Security numbers required

for a wide variety of documents, from credit cards to driver's licenses.

"The new technology makes it easy to steal your identity numbers," Huse

said. "It is very difficult to understand where we can go with the new technologies

if we can't lick this problem."

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