The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) administers the Social Security Administration (SSA), which controls and manages the process by which Social Security Numbers are issued.
The Social Security Act was enacted in 1935 to provide Social Security payments to the aged, in the form of federal benefit payments. These payments are based on Social Security taxes paid through a person’s employment. To administer this system of payments and benefits, the SSA created the Social Security numbering system. Under this system, each person who wanted to gain employment would apply from the administration.
The SSA began issuing numbers in mid November 1936, and by 1937, 40 million SSN’s had been issued. Today, more than 325 million numbers have been assigned, of which 210 million are considered active. Originally, SSN’s were assigned on unsupported statements from the applicant about their identity. But as it became more apparent that more and more applicant’s provided false information to fraudantly obtain additional numbers, and as the national importance of the SSN identifier grew, the SSA instituted stricter rules.
Beginning in 1978, applicants for SSNs had to offer documentary evidence to support their statements. The document most used is by applicants is their birth certificate. Also, all applicants over the age of 18 are personally interviewed, and all Americans are required to have a number by age 2.
The first three digits (except for the 700 series) identify the geographic area of issuance. The 700 series was reserved until 1963, for people covered under the Railroad Retirement System. In 1963, newly hired railroad employees were issued regular SSNs, and the new issuance’s in the 700 series were discontinued. Before 2011 the 800 and 900 numbers have not been issued.
Previously, the second two numbers are known as group numbers, breaking geographic areas into groups. The last four numbers, called serial numbers, are a straight numerical progression from 0001 to 9999 within the group.
There are about 20 unique SSNs called “pocketbook numbers.” These are SSNs that appeared on facsimile Social Security cards that wallet manufacturers sold with their wallets. Many people who bought wallets in 1937 assumed this was a specific SSN assigned to them and they used this number for employment or tax purposes and the IRS recognizes.
There are no valid Social Security Numbers with beginning with three 6s; numbers beginning with three or more 0s; numbers ending in four 0s; numbers with 00 group numbers (second set). Additionally, Federal Tax ID Numbers cannot be used as Social Security Numbers.
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