Social Security Numbers in the Pre-Employment Screening Process
In math classes when I was growing up, I spent my time wondering if Adam and Eve had belly buttons, why the Japanese Kamikaze pilots I saw in old news reels wore crash helmets and if a cow laughed real hard, would milk come out its nose. That said, I’ve learned a bit about Social Security Numbers over the years.
Social security numbers are sensitive information and I’ve heard a variation of this question many times:
“Why is about the first thing out of a potential employer’s mouth ‘What is your social security number?’ Of course I know that when we’ve established mutual interest, they will need to have it, but they seem a little obsessed with it early in the process.”
Motor carriers are required by federal motor carrier safety regulations to obtain the Social Security Number (SSN) on the employment application. Section 391.21 says:
“…a person shall not drive a commercial motor vehicle unless he/she has completed and furnished the motor carrier that employs him/her with an application for employment [and each application] must contain the following information: The applicant’s name, address, date of birth, and social security number;…”
So, they’re going to obtain your SSN fairly early in the process, but there are other reasons potential employers ask even before the employment application. The main reason is that the SSN is used as an identifier when ordering information such as employment history (including DAC Reports).
In fact, one of the first things most potential employers will do is check out your SSN. Old computer programmers had a saying: “garbage in, garbage out.” Recruiters and screeners know that if you perform a background investigation with a “garbage” SSN, your investigation results will be garbage too. And those investigations cost money. So, most employers will take some steps to verify the SSN, as it is the hinge around which the rest of the investigation revolves. Most of these verifications involve 4 separate checks of the number you provide:
They will check to see if the number is in a valid range. Numbers are assigned in group orders and checks are done to insure the number provided is in order. There is a fairly complex algorithm used and if the first 5 numbers of the SSN are out of whack, the number can be flagged as invalid.
They will check the state of issue. While social security is a federal program, each state issues a given set of numbers. (The first 3 numbers indicate what state issued the number). If a person says they’ve lived and worked in Florida their whole life and they have a SSN in Alaska’s group, it raises questions.
They will check the year (or range of years) of issue. Again, this can be determined by the number sequence. So, if you’re 50 years old and provide 10 years of employment history—but you provide a SSN issued a year ago, there will be questions.
Finally, they will check to see if the number has been reported to the Social Security Administration as belonging to a person who has died. The Social Security Administration keeps track of that kind of thing and if you use a number that belongs to a person who has been confirmed as deceased, questions will be raised or the National Enquirer will be phoned.
Employers check the above items to guard against mistakes in transcribing numbers and prevent applicants from hiding their past by falsifying their SSN. Identity theft and identity confusion is a growing concern, not only to individuals, but to companies. Companies want to make sure they don’t hire someone who hides past history by changing identifiers. They also don’t want to refuse employment to a good driver whose good history has been tainted by someone with similar identifiers.