United States Social Security Numbers on WikiTree Records

+15 votes
In working with the Data Doctor's project, I find many records which include information from the Social Security Death Index that include Social Security numbers. Some records even include other family members numbers. I understand that these numbers are from mostly deceased individuals and are public through other sources; however, is WikiTree the correct place to openly expose these numbers to the public with legal name and birth information? In addition, should I be obligated to check out other family members records exposed on a record and verify they are not living?
WikiTree profile: Carl Drybread
in Policy and Style by Jay Klock G2G2 (2.3k points)
recategorized by Ellen Smith

Responding to Jay's question: is WikiTree the correct place to openly expose these numbers to the public with legal name and birth information?  I do not think so, and I do not include them myself.  There are certainly enough concerns to prevent me from feeling comfortable with it (just look at the discussion here).  And there are reports on the fraudulent use of active SSNs assigned to people born 100+ years ago.  In 2015 it was reported that at least 6.5 million active Social Security numbers belong to people who are at least 112 years old and likely deceased. 


4 Answers

+14 votes
Best answer
Even for deceased peoples social security numbers have been used for fraudulent purposes, so I try not to post them at all.
by David Hughey G2G Astronaut (1.6m points)
selected by Mary-Ellen Snow
The fraudulent use of the SSNs of deceased people has been associated largely with people assuming the SSN of child of approximately their age who died young. I cannot see it being an issue for the kinds of situations where I have included a SSN in a profile, such as for a person who was born in 1880 and died in 1948.
In recent years, SSNs of recently deceased people have been used to fraudulently file Tax Returns and claim refunds. I personally know of a widow a few years ago who discovered that someone else had already filed a tax return using her husband's SSN prior to her filing for the first year after his death.
+10 votes
I do recall looking into this same/similar topic a while ago. I'm trying to locate the sources I have for this, but the following is what I had understood to be true.

After an individual passes away and their death is reported to the Social Security Administration (and encouraged by the SSA to be confirmed by a family member) the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is typically updated within 5 years of the death.

Thus, after the SSDI actually reflects the death in their system, the Social Security Number is actually considered (on the Federal Level) Public Record.

With that stated...

I personally Black Out/Redact either the first 5 or all the numbers in anything public (like WikiTree) as a personal preference as I don't feel comfortable (myself) with publicly providing it on a Genealogy level.

If it were me creating a WikiTree Rule/Guidance regarding Social Security Numbers, I would personally state that "the first 5 or whole Social Security Number(s) to be Black Out (aka Redacted) no matter how long the Individual was Deceased.

The above is just my personal opinion, suggestion, etc...

I do hope that I had stated the above information okay via text. :-))

~Brian Kerr
by Living Kerr G2G6 Pilot (313k points)
+15 votes
This is about deceased people. We absolutely should not be posting Social Security numbers for living people. Although these numbers were widely and freely used in a public context in decades past, some time around the 1980s they started to be used as unique identifiers to connect a person to their financial records, medical information, and other sensitive items, and they are now highly protected.

Social Security numbers for deceased people are public information that appears in Social Security records that have been released to FamilySearch, Ancestry.com, etc.  I have sometimes included these numbers in a profile (usually as part of the source citation) because they are unique identifiers that could help someone else find or identify the record, and because the number itself can indicate the region where the person lived at the time they obtained the number, and I think also the approximate time period when they obtained the number.
by Ellen Smith G2G Astronaut (1.4m points)
I do not add SSN's to any profile.  I do link to the SSN Index as a source primarily for birth/death data.  The link is to the actual FamilySearch.org record.
Yeah, people sometimes can open fraudulent accounts using old SSNs too, I think it's better to just not include them where possible.
+10 votes
The federal government is required by law to publish death information. There is no assumption of privacy rights for a deceased person. Last I heard, the Social Security numbers for deaths within 3 years are not published, but older than that they are. Some sites who republish the SSDI restrict it further.

I personally do not enter the SSN on a profile that is fairly recent (died within about 10 years), or whose spouse may be still living. I don't have a problem with otherwise including it on any profile for someone who was born over 100 years ago, although it's been my habit to not include the number. Regardless, I always include the name that the record was found under and the date of death, to make the record easy for others to find.

I have never seen a record that included others' numbers, but I'm sure they exist. If I ever do run into one, I can't imagine that it would be necessary to include the numbers in a citation or narrative. I would not include any personal information of someone still living or suspected to be alive.
by Joyce Rivette G2G6 Pilot (151k points)
Thank you so much for your response. Based on your comments, I agree.

Since US Social Security numbers were not issued prior to 1936, I will follow your advice and not include them or remove them until 2036 (the 100 year mark). These numbers are available from other sources for research purposes.
@Jay: The issuance of a Social Security Number is not necessarily correlated with birth date.

In the early years, Social Security numbers were issued only to working people. Many of the people who received SSNs in 1936 were born in the 19th century. It was not until the late 1950s or early 1960s (this is based on my personal recollection) that it became common for children to be issued SSNs, and it was not until 1987 that they were routinely issued to newborns.

See https://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/ssb/v69n2/v69n2p55.html for more than you ever wanted to know about Social Security numbers.

Jay, I apologize if I wasn't clear, but what I intended to convey was that I'm OK with including the SSN in a citation for people whose birth date was over 100 years ago. By my estimate, there are between 50-60 million people in the SSDI who were born over 100 years ago (i.e., born before 1921). Of those, over a million died within the last 10 years.

Thanks for the star, Ron!

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