Shoestring Theory

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Memo to KCKPD: Bad Idea

August 20, 2009 at 1:00 pm by thetheorist

Kansas City, Kansas Police Department Pamphlet
Click to see the whole pamphlet in a readable form.

I’m sure that the general attitude towards Social Security Numbers is that one should protect them and not use them in ways that make it easier for them to get stolen. A friend who recently had his car stolen in Kansas City, Kan., forwarded this pamphlet on to me. The officer gave it to him after taking a report.

The pamphlet, in warning you how to protect yourself, suggests you use your Social Security Number to mark property that might get stolen.

Mark your property with your Drivers License or Social Security Number.

Perhaps their logic is that this makes the property more valuable, and so perhaps they will be more likely to try and track it down? Shame that criminals will already have not only your property, but valuable information about you too.

A quick Google search showed many government and private agencies suggesting that you absolutely not use your SSN this way.

From the City of Woodinville, Wash (Opens PDF, requires Adobe Acrobat).

Mark your valuables with your Washington State Driver’s License Number…(Ed Note: goes on to describe in depth how to use your DL number). Do not use your Social Security Number.

From the Oklahoma City University Police (their caps, not mine):


From the University of Illinois Springfield Police (They needed to use 3!!! exclamation points to get the point across):

Do Not Use a Social Security Number!!!
Unlike your social security number, your Illinois driver’s license is readily available to any law enforcement officer. It is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and on holidays.

There were easily dozens of more examples like this from across the country just in the first few pages of that Google search.

Not that any of this might matter, turns out that clever mathematicians have a good shot at guessing your SSN anyway. Last month MSNBC reported on researchers who have found ways to identify SSNs using publicly available information like place and date of birth.

A completely random guess at a 9-digit SSN should be a one in one billion chance. But instead, their newly educated guesses have narrowed the odds down to roughly 1 in 1,000. Making matters worse, because of changes in the way the numbers have been issued since 1988, the numbers are getting easier and easier to guess as time passes. In one example, the researchers said, they can uncover a Delaware resident’s 9-digit SSN within 10 guesses about 5 percent of the time.

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  • 1 PTLafferty Aug 20, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    Good posting here, Theorist! I saw that story about the SSN research and just shook my head. Honestly, it has to make a bit of a nihilist of us all. There is literally nothing you can do (for free) to protect your credit/identity, so you are left paying LifeLock in their government-aided extortion scheme or simply hoping for the best. But when it hits so close to home…I’m shocked to find that police in KCK are aiding government extortion! Shocked, I tell ya! Oww. My eye hurts from winking so hard.