Strategies To Identify a Fake Social Security Card

Social security


In the United States, a Social Security number is a nine-digit number issued to U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and temporary residents under section 205 of the Social Security Act, codified as 42 U.S.C. § 405. 

Your nine-digit Social Security number is your first and continuous connection with Social Security. It helps us identify and accurately record your covered wages or self-employment earnings. We also use it to monitor your record once you start getting benefits.


  • A Social Security number (SSN) is a unique identifier assigned to U.S. citizens and some residents to track their income and determine benefits. 
  • In addition to Social Security, the SSN is now also used for a wide range of purposes.
  • These include obtaining credit, opening a bank account, obtaining government benefits or private insurance, and buying a home or a car, among many other pursuits.

Why Do You Need One?

A Social Security number is important because you need it to get a job, collect Social Security benefits and get some other government services. You should keep your Social Security card in a safe place with your other important papers and avoid giving it out unnecessarily. Keep in mind that in many cases, even if you lost your card, you may not need a replacement. In most cases, simply knowing your Social Security number is enough. But if you do need a replacement, we make it easy.

Types of Social Security Cards

US issues three types of Social Security cards. All cards show your name and Social Security number. If you are not a U.S. Citizen or lawful permanent resident, you may have a work restriction listed on your card. The chart below explains the three types of cards

Shows your name and Social Security number and lets you work without restriction.

We issue it to:

  • U.S. citizens; and
  • People lawfully admitted to the United States on a permanent basis.


Shows your name and Social Security number with the restriction, “VALID FOR WORK ONLY WITH DHS AUTHORIZATION”.

We issue it to people lawfully admitted to the United States on a temporary basis who have DHS authorization to work.3

Shows your name and Social Security number with the restriction, “NOT VALID FOR EMPLOYMENT”.

We issue it to people from other countries who:

  • are lawfully admitted to the United States without work authorization from DHS, but have a valid non-work reason for needing a Social Security number; or
  • need a number because of a federal law requiring a Social Security number to get a benefit or service.


One or more of the following security features appear on SSN cards issued since 10/31/1983:

  • •Tamper-proof background
  • •Color-shifting ink
  • •Intaglio printing in some areas on the front of the card
  • •Latent image on the face of the card visible only when viewed at specific angles
  • •Red fluorescent nine-digit alphanumeric number on back (beginning February 1996)
  • •Intaglio microtext in signature line (when magnified, the line is actually letters spelling out SOCIAL SECURITY)
  • •Yellow, pink, and blue planchettes (small discs) randomly displayed on the front and back of the card
  • •Anti-copy pattern that is discernable when the card is photocopied
  • •For original cards, a dash in each column on the same line as the SSN
  • •Date the card is issued [i.e., Cycle Date (CYD) from the Numident] is printed under the signature line on the face of the card (beginning April 2007)

Since 1936, the United States Social Security Administration (“SSA”) has issued U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and temporary residents a nine-digit social security number to track that individual in the social security system. Formally printed on a card and delivered to each individual, this number is increasingly used for identification purposes, especially for verifying the name and social security number of new hires. It is a formal document, and therefore follows certain official conventions. Being aware of these conventions can help you spot a fake social security card or number if you are tasked with verifying a person’s social security information.

Below are some other common scenarios where you’ll need to provide your Social Security number.

When Opening an Account With Any U.S. Financial Institution

Since 1970, the federal government has required banks to obtain customers’ Social Security numbers or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).Financial institutions use your SSN to check your credit, to report your interest and investment income or losses to the IRS, to report your tax-deductible mortgage interest to the IRS, and to manage your account.1

As an alternative, some financial institutions will accept a taxpayer identification number (on some forms, also called an Employer Identification Number or EIN), which you’ll need to apply for through the IRS.4 

When Applying for a Federal Loan

The government will use your Social Security number to make sure you’re eligible when you apply for a federal loan, such as a federal student loan.5 For example, to qualify for federal student loans, you must not be in default on another federal loan, you must have eligible citizenship or visitor status, and most male applicants must have registered with the Selective Service.

When Applying for Certain Types of Public Assistance

Public assistance programs, such asunemployment benefits or Social Security disability income, are usually managed by federal or state government agencies who use Social Security numbers to identify people and make sure they aren’t claiming benefits that they aren’t entitled to.67

When Enrolling in Medicare

The Social Security Administration works with the Centers for Medicare  and Medicaid  Services to enroll people in Medicare.89 

When Applying for a Passport

Federal law requires you to provide a Social Security number if you have one when you apply for a U.S. passport. If you don’t have an SSN, you must provide a sworn statement that you were never issued one.10

On Your Tax Return

The IRS uses this number to match the income you report on your tax return to the income your employer and financial institutions report having paid to you. Also, you’ll need to provide your child’s SSN to claim your child as a dependent on your tax return.11

To Get a Driver’s License

If you have an SSN, many states require that you have to provide it when you apply for a driver’s license.1213 

Non-citizens who don’t have Social Security numbers are exempt from providing a Social Security number in many situations that normally require it, including getting a driver’s license, registering for school, getting private health insurance, or applying for public assistance such as subsidized housing. The government doesn’t like to give Social Security numbers to non-citizens who aren’t authorized to work in the United States. It says that even banks and credit companies usually can’t require you to provide a Social Security number if you don’t have one.14

However, without this number, financial institutions won’t be able to run a credit check  on you, which could make it difficult, if not impossible, to get a credit card or loan.

When to Avoid Using Your Social Security Number

Federal law basically lets anyone ask for your Social Security number, but that doesn’t mean you need to give it out. You should use your Social Security number as infrequently as possible. Just because someone asks for it doesn’t mean they truly need it.

For example, though most medical providers will ask for your SSN, you can leave the line asking for it blank when filling out medical paperwork, and often, no one will question it. Your doctor’s office and other businesses can use other information to identify you and keep track of your records. That said, while you can refuse to provide your SSN, the other party can also refuse to do business with you.

You also shouldn’t carry your Social Security card around with you unless you will be using it for a specific purpose that day, such as when you’re filling out paperwork to start a new job, and you have to show it to your employer as proof of citizenship (though if you can show a valid passport, you don’t need to provide your Social Security card).

You don’t want to risk losing your card or having it stolen since thieves can use this number, in combination with your other personal data, to apply for credit, take out loans, get a job, or even get health care in your name, creating a potentially massive identity theft problem for you to clean up.

Instead, keep the card in a secure place at home or in a safe deposit box at the bank. If your card is lost or stolen, you’ll want to apply for a new one.

Similarly, you should keep any documents that contain your SSN, such as your tax returns, in a secure place. If someone were to break into your house, it would be better for you if they could only make off with your stuff and not your identity. You also need to carefully safeguard your electronic documents that contain your Social Security number. If you have an unencrypted PDF of your tax return on your laptop, you’re effectively carrying your Social Security card every time you take your computer with you on a trip or to a coffee shop.

The Bottom Line

When the government introduced the Social Security program with its numbers in 1936, it was never meant to be so widely used to identify and track individuals.15 Today, this number is used for everything from its original purpose—to track your lifetime earnings and calculate your Social Security benefits—to opening a checking account or filling out a new patient form at the doctor’s office.

Many businesses will ask for your Social Security number simply because it’s a convenient way for them to identify customers. Unfortunately, criminals can use your Social Security number to commit identity theft, so you should guard your SSN carefully and only give it out when absolutely necessary.

Method Of Checking And Identifying Social Security Card

  1. 1Take note of the type of social security card you are examining. The SSA issues three forms of social security card. If you are an employer seeking to verify the work eligibility of a potential employee, this information is the first thing you should check.
    • The first shows a person’s name and social security number, and authorizes that person to work without restriction.
    • The second, in addition to the name and number, notes that the person is “valid for work only with DHS authorization,” meaning the person is allowed to work on a temporary basis so long as they have authorization from the Department of Homeland Security.
    • Finally, a card that bears a name and number and states “not valid for employment” represents an individual who has been issued a social security card for a non-work purpose and is not eligible for employment in the United States.
  2. 2Check the name on the card. It should match the name on the person’s other forms of identification, such as a driver’s license or passport. Most of the time, when you will be checking the veracity of a person’s social security card, you will also have access to other forms of identification for this individual. Make sure the name is spelled the same across all of these documents.
    • The social security card also has a line for the person’s signature. Make sure this signature matches other instances of the person’s signature, both in spelling and handwriting format.
  3. 3Check the basic features of the card. The card should be printed on banknote paper, similar to the paper used for currency, and has a distinctly different feel and weight from regular paper. The card should bear the words “Social Security” on the front, along with the SSA’s official seal. It should also have the words “This number has been established for” printed across the seal, and the person’s name and social security number should be printed on the front. There should be a place for the person’s signature, and blank space enough so the person can sign his or her name.
    • The back should not be blank, as the back of a valid social security card contains official information such as where to mail found cards and certain identifying numbers for the card itself.
    • You should also pay attention to the actual card itself. It should not look like it was cut with scissors or other home implement. The sides should be clean, and at least one of them should show evidence the card was perforated at one point (able to be easily torn off a larger piece of paper).
    • The card should be not laminated, as this is prohibited by the SSA due to the fact this process may compromise some of the security features on the card.
    • Looking at the card with a magnified lens should reveal no smudging or running of the ink used on the card.
  4. 4Understand the differences between cards issued at different times. Since the SSA began issuing social security cards in 1936, the administration has issued over 30 different versions of the card, all of which are valid today.[6] You can ask the person whose card it is when it was issued (for U.S. citizens, usually at birth, unless the card was re-issued because it was lost or stolen), and then check this list provided by the SSA detailing how the card has changed throughout its history to determine which features should be on a particular individual’s card.
  5. 5Check the security features of the card. While these features will vary based on when the card was issued, there are several security features that commonly appear on most cards.
    • The background of the card should be an erasable random blue-tinted pattern, meaning any attempt to erase information on the card would erase this pattern as well.
    • Planchettes—small, multi-colored disks—are randomly placed in the paper used to make the card, and should be visible to the naked eye. They are yellow, pink, or blue.
    • Some areas on the front of the card should be raised such that you can feel them when you touch the card. This type of printing is known as “intaglio” printing, and is also used on U.S. currency due to the fact it is difficult to replicate.
  6. 6Check the SSA’s website to stay up-to-date on security features as they are added. In an effort to comply with the Social Security Act, the SSA is required to ensure, as best it can, that a social security card cannot be counterfeited. As such, new security features are introduced as they become available. This list,[for instance, details some of the security features that may appear on cards issued after October 31, 1983, and remains current.

Method 2 Checking the Social Security Number

  1. 1Check the format of the social security number. The number should have nine digits, separated by hyphens in the following format: xxx-xx-xxxx. The three groupings represent an area number, group number, and serial number, respectively. Before 2011, the first three numbers were tied to the card holder’s geographic location, reflecting the zip code in the mailing address of the application. Since 2011, however, the SSA generates social security numbers randomly, in an effort to make the process more secure.
  2. 2Check the number itself. The SSA follows a number of rules when assigning social security numbers, and therefore the number itself should be scrutinized to make sure it passes at least basic scrutiny.
    • The first three numbers cannot be 000, 666, or 900–999.[
    • If the social security number was issued prior to June 25, 2011, check this list[ to match the first three numbers (the area number) with the individual’s corresponding state of issuance to make sure they match. Also note which area numbers in this list were not used prior to June 25, 2011.
    • Neither the area, group, or serial number should consist of all zeroes
    • The number itself should be printed on the card in a uniform manner, with all numbers the same height and width, identical spacing between the numbers, and no smudging or running of the ink used to print the numbers.
  3. 3Use the Social Security Number Verification Service. If you are an employer seeking to validate the social security number of a new hire, your best option is to use this service, provided by the SSA for free for this type of check. This is a foolproof way to ensure your new hires have valid social security numbers, and is easy to register for and then use. Simply follow the instructions printed on the SSA’s website to register for the service, receive an activation code, and then login and use the service.

Method 3 Reporting Possible Social Security Fraud

  1. 1Gather the necessary information. If you believe that someone is using a fake social security card or number to work or obtain benefits, you can report that individual to the Office of the Inspector General of the Social Security Administration. Before you make such a report, however, it is necessary to gather certain information so that the SSA can make the most of your report.
    • You will want to compile a list of the suspect’s name, address, telephone numbers, dates of birth, and the social security number they are using. The more information you can provide, the better.
    • It will also be helpful to detail the circumstances of the fraud, including a basic description of what took place along with when and where the violation occurred.
  2. 2Report the violation to the SSA. The SSA provides an online form you can use to submit a report of a person using a fake social security card or number. You can also reach the SSA by phone, mail, or fax. All of this information is available on the portion of the SSA’s website dedicated to reporting fraud.
    • You have the option of remaining anonymous when reporting a social security violation. Your identity will only be released to relevant officials on a need-to-know basis. However, the SSA warns that remaining anonymous may hamper its ability to conduct a thorough investigation.
    • You will not be updated on the status of your report unless the SSA has need to question you directly.

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