What is a Social Security Number (SSN) Trace?

Last Updated: January 10, 2023 5 min read
Author: Zach L.

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A SSN Trace is used by credit bureaus, employers, and background checks to search a database using a person’s social security number as the unique identifier in order to confirm an individual’s personal information.

What is a Social Security Number (SSN) Trace?

A Social Security Number (SSN) trace is a database search using a person's social security number as a unique identifier. It is often used by credit bureaus, employers, and background check providers to verify a person's identity and collect additional information about their background. The resulting SSN trace report can provide valuable information, including credit headers, dates of birth, and credit scores, as well as previous addresses, maiden names, and the death index.

Misconceptions About SSN Traces

There are many misconceptions about SSN traces and the information they provide. Some people believe that an SSN trace can provide a complete criminal record search, but this is not true. While an SSN trace can reveal criminal history, it is typically only part of a more thorough background check that may include other types of searches, such as criminal records searches and education verifications.

Uses of SSN Traces

Uses of SSN Traces

An SSN trace is often the first step in a background screening process and can be used for a variety of purposes, including employment decisions and the hiring process. It is an important part of the hiring process for HR professionals, as it can help verify an applicant's name, date of birth, and previous addresses. It can also be an invaluable tool for credit card companies and lending institutions, as it can help verify an applicant's credit history and credit scores, which are important factors in determining whether to extend credit or approve a loan.

Sources of Information in an SSN Trace Report

There are several sources of information that may be included in an SSN trace report, such as credit headers, voter registration records, magazine subscriptions, and customer loyalty programs. These sources can provide valuable insights into a person's financial history, employment history, and other important details.

Limitations of SSN Traces

It's important to note that an SSN trace is not a complete background check and should not be used as the sole basis for making employment or credit decisions. An SSN trace should be just one part of a more comprehensive background screening process that includes additional searches and verifications. For example, a more thorough background check may include a criminal records search or an education verification to provide a complete picture of a person's background.

Additional Searches and Verifications

Additional Searches and Verifications

In addition to the information obtained from an SSN trace, a more thorough background check may also include verifications of a person's employment history, criminal searches, and other types of searches depending on the requirements of the organization conducting the background check. These additional searches can provide valuable insights into a person's background and help to make more informed hiring or credit decisions.

Choosing a Background Check Provider

When choosing a background check provider, it's important to consider the company's reputation, the types of searches and verifications they offer, and the laws and regulations they follow. Some background check providers may have access to additional databases and sources of information that can provide a more complete picture of a person's background, such as utility bill records or social security administration records. These additional database searches can help verify a person's current address, provide information about previous names or different name variations, and verify a person's education history.

Legal Considerations for SSN Traces

There are several legal considerations to keep in mind when using an SSN trace or conducting a background check. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and other federal and state laws regulate the use of background check information for employment purposes. Employers must follow these laws when requesting and using background check information for employment decisions, including obtaining written consent from the applicant and providing a copy of the background check report to the applicant.

It's also important to be aware of privacy considerations when using an SSN trace or conducting a background check. Personal information obtained through an SSN trace or background check should be kept confidential and used only for the purpose for which it was obtained.

Why Would Someone Do a SSN Trace?

Using a social security number trace can help you determine if there are any inconsistencies in the information a candidate provides you. An easy example is if their date of birth (DOB) doesn't match with what was provided, they could be falsifying their age for a variety of reasons. Another example is if the social security number that you were provided isn't currently in use, the candidate could have given you an invalid SSN and that is something to investigate.

Final Thoughts

An SSN trace is an important tool that can provide valuable information about a person's identity and background. However, it is important to be aware of its limitations and to use it as part of a more comprehensive background screening process. Employers and other organizations should carefully consider the legal and privacy considerations when using an SSN trace or conducting a background check.