18 fun facts about Social Security numbers

A wallet company reprinted a secretary's Social Security number on a sample card inserted into one of its products. More than 40,000 people later claimed the number as their own.

By MSN Money Partner Feb 25, 2011 10:21AM

This guest post comes from Len Penzo at Len Penzo dot Com.


Recently I was looking through the safe that holds all of my most important documents, like family birth certificates, insurance policies and the secret recipe for Mom's sauce, when I ran across my Social Security card.

Now, I'll wager that if you poll a room full of people at a triple-keg Super Bowl party, more than half of them wouldn't be able to tell you the license plate number of their car -- and that's before the kickoff. However, if you asked those same folk to recite their Social Security number, they would all be able to do it forward and backward -- even after the kegs are empty. Post continues after video.

If you're like me, maybe you've wondered if there's any rhyme or reason to how Social Security card numbers are determined. Well, wonder no more, because while you were out enjoying the weekend, I was sitting here in my chair researching the story behind our Social Security numbers. I know. Don't say a word.

Anyway, here's what I found out:

  1. Since 1936, more than 420 million different Social Security numbers have been issued.
  2. More than 5.5 million new numbers are assigned every year.
  3. The first three digits of a Social Security number are known as the "area number." Area numbers assigned before 1972 reflect the state where you applied for your number; otherwise, they are based upon the Social Security card application mailing address ZIP code.
  4. Some people believe the next two digits, called the "group number," helps identify a persons race. It doesn't.
  5. The two-digit group number was actually created as a way to organize Social Security Administration filing cabinets into subgroups to make them more manageable.
  6. The last four digits on a Social Security card are serial numbers that are issued consecutively within a group from 0001 to 9999.
  7. Area numbers are assigned geographically, with the lowest numbers in the Northeast and the highest in the Northwest. That practice will no longer apply, however, after a new randomized assignment methodology officially goes into effect on June 25.
  8. Based upon the original assignment criterion, one would naturally expect a Maine resident to have the lowest Social Security number ever issued. However, New Hampshire was ultimately given the 001 area number so that Social Security number 001-01-0001 could be assigned to Social Security board chairman John G. Winant, who was a three-time governor of the state.
  9. Winant eventually declined the honor of having the lowest Social Security number. As a result, it eventually found its way to Grace D. Owen of Concord, N.H.
  10. Officially, the first Social Security number issued was 055-09-0001 and it was assigned to John David Sweeney.
  11. Sweeney died of a heart attack in 1974 at the age of 61; ironically, he never received a single penny of Social Security benefits.
  12. In many cases, invalid Social Security numbers can be easily spotted. That's because cards have not been issued where the first three digits are 000, 666, or higher than 772. Valid cards are also never issued with the middle two digits or the final four digits all zeros.
  13. In 1938 a sample Social Security card with the number 078-05-1120 was inserted into new wallets manufactured by the E.H. Ferree company in Lockport, N.Y. Unfortunately, that number belonged to Hilda Schrader Whitcher, the secretary of an E.H. Ferree vice president who decided to use her official number on the sample cards. Nice guy, huh?
  14. Not surprisingly, more than 40,000 people have since claimed Whitcher's Social Security number as their own at one time or another.
  15. Whitcher was eventually issued a new number, but not before being questioned by the FBI. They wanted to know why so many people had her number.
  16. If you object to certain digits in your Social Security number, you can apply for a new one, but only if you can prove your concerns are firmly rooted in your religious beliefs or cultural traditions.
  17. Social Security numbers are not reused after the cardholder dies.
  18. Even though numbers aren't reused, the Social Security Administration says the current numbering system is capable of providing enough new numbers for "several generations into the future." That means Social Security numbers will still be available well past 2030.  Even if the benefit money won't.

More from Len Penzo dot Com and MSN Money:


Feb 25, 2011 5:14PM

It took the FBI to figure out that 40,000 people were using this women's social security number, and only then did they issue her a new social security card.    Depending on how we vote in November, these same people will be in charge of our healthcare decisions.

Feb 25, 2011 6:57PM
your zip code would be for demographics only, not as a literal beginning of your card number.  We lived in Europe and filed through NY creating lower numbers for us.
Feb 25, 2011 7:25PM
oh ya  this is a great aritcal lets give forgers who make fake SS cards for ILLEGALS more ammo to make a better fake card!!!!  lest just hand them a stack of all ready assigned numbers to pass out like candy to those who have no LEGAL right to be in or work in this country. this artical should be taken off the web.. oh wait it has probley already been copy/pasted by the ones who do all the counterfitting..  why don't we just post on the web how to counterfit money too  mabey it will boost the economy.
Feb 25, 2011 11:54PM
Actually, I thought I was the oddball for having my SS# memorized.
Feb 25, 2011 8:21PM

beagle...it was in 1938 that the 40,000 people took the secretary's number...i dont think we will be electing anyone from that time period, that will be making our healthcare decisions...lol

most of them were adultsin 1938 and are long gone...

why would 6 people agree with the post except out of anger and ignorance

Feb 25, 2011 5:29PM
yea and I bet most of them were  ****s
Feb 25, 2011 5:16PM
That's why I know this whole credit rating/soc sec # thing is a big scam.  There is absolutely no reason for what they put people through to clear mistakes on their credit that they had nothing to do with it.  It is a racket that the government is complicit in.
Feb 25, 2011 6:00PM
Hate to tell you but your facts are definately wrong!!   I was born in 73' and based on what you wrote my first 3 numbers would be based on a zip code?   Tell me where there is a 377 zip in Michigan.   Get your facts straight!!!
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