Social Security Numbers:

Improved SSN Verification and Exchange of States' Driver Records Would Enhance Identity Verification

GAO-03-920: Published: Sep 15, 2003. Publicly Released: Sep 15, 2003.

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Since September 11, 2001, more attention has been focused on the importance of identifying people who use false identity information or documents to obtain a driver license. The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers states a service to verify social security numbers (SSNs) collected during the driver licensing process. This report examines states' use of SSA's verification service, factors that may affect the usefulness of the service, and other tools states use or need to verify identity.

GAO found that 25 states have used either one or both of the methods SSA offers for requesting SSN verification. Over the last several years, states used the batch and on-line method to submit over 84 million and 13 million requests, respectively. Although on-line use has been increasing, usage varied significantly among states, with 5 out of 18 states submitting over 70 percent of all requests. States decide to use SSA's service based on various factors, such as costs and state priorities. Weaknesses in SSA's design and management of its SSN verification service have contributed to capacity and performance problems and limited its usefulness. While SSA recently increased systems capacity and reduced outages, problems remain. For example, the level of service cannot be assessed because SSA has not established key performance measures. States are concerned that the high verification failure rate adds to their workloads. Several states noted that some of the failures could be prevented if SSA disclosed more information to states. States using the batch method are vulnerable to licensing individuals using SSNs of deceased persons because SSA does not match requests against its death files. In fact, GAO obtained licenses using fraudulent documents and deceased persons' SSNs in 2 states. Driver licensing agencies rely primarily on visual inspection of documents such as birth certificates, driver licenses, and U.S. immigration documents to verify applicants' identity. While states may use safeguards beyond visual inspection to verify documents, they lack the ability to systematically exchange identity information on all drivers with other states. Without a means to readily share all driver records, states face a greater risk for identity theft and fraud in the driver licensing process. A recent Department of Transportation report to Congress identified options that would provide states a system for exchanging records on all drivers and could help mitigate identity fraud.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In line with GAO's recommendation, in May 2005 Congress enacted legislation requiring states to electronically share information on all driver records.

    Matter: In light of the homeland security implications associated with states' inability to systematically exchange driver license identity information and the need for sustained leadership in this area, the Congress, in partnership with the states, may wish to consider authorizing the development of a national data sharing system for driver records.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In late 2004 SSA initiated actions to modify its batch SSN verification method, as GAO recommended. As of March 6, 2006, SSA had implemented the software that revised its batch SSN verification method and began informing driver licensing agencies when the SSNs for which they request verification belonged to individuals who SSA's records indicate are deceased. This will help states be alert to customers who may be fraudulently using a deceased person's identity information to obtain a driver license.

    Recommendation: Considering the significant increase in the number of on-line requests that SSA anticipates receiving from states, as well as the weaknesses that we identified in SSA's service that may increase states' vulnerability to identity fraud, the Commissioner of Social Security should modify SSA's batch verification method to include a match against its nationwide death records

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: SSA has not taken any actions to date to work with the states to explore options for reducing the nonmatch rate.

    Recommendation: Considering the significant increase in the number of on-line requests that SSA anticipates receiving from states, as well as the weaknesses that we identified in SSA's service that may increase states' vulnerability to identity fraud, the Commissioner of Social Security should develop a strategy for improving the nonmatch rate for SSA's verification service. This should include identifying additional information it can reasonably and legally disclose to state driver-licensing agencies as well as actions states can take to prevent nonmatches.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: SSA has established measures to assess its performance for the online verification service. Driver licensing agencies that use SSA's online verification service submit requests to, and receive responses from, SSA through a network maintained by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA). As of mid-2004, SSA had established a goal of responding to 95 percent of all requests within 5 seconds or less from the time AAMVA submits them to SSA and responding to the balance within 10 seconds or less.

    Recommendation: Considering the significant increase in the number of on-line requests that SSA anticipates receiving from states, as well as the weaknesses that we identified in SSA's service that may increase states' vulnerability to identity fraud, the Commissioner of Social Security should develop performance measures essential to assessing the quality of the service provided.

    Agency Affected: Social Security Administration

 

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