Washington Rep. Mark Foley was stunned when he received a call last year from a collection agency wanting to know when he planned to pay for more than $700 worth of items purchased with a new credit card.
The Florida Republican said he didn't buy the items or even own the card. An investigation revealed someone else had applied for it, using Foley's Social Security number.
A bill approved Thursday by a House Ways and Means subcommittee seeks to combat that problem, known as identity theft.
Foley says he still can't figure out how the thief, who was never caught, obtained his Social Security number.
"Regrettably there's so many people who ask for it now," he said.
"Right now people are allowed to basically sell a list that includes your precious Social Security number," said Foley, a member of the Ways and Means Committee, which is expected to take up the Social Security subcommittee bill after the August congressional recess.
Reps. E. Clay Shaw Jr., R-Fla., and Robert Matsui, D-Calif. introduced the legislation, which would make the sale of Social Security numbers illegal and prohibit the government from putting those numbers on public documents.
In addition, motor vehicle departments could not display Social Security numbers on licenses or vehicle registrations.
The District of Columbia and Hawaii are the only jurisdictions in the country that still require Social Security numbers to be listed on drivers' licenses. The Hawaii Legislature, however, passed a bill this year banning the practice, effective Jan. 1, 2001.
The bill also prevents credit agencies and other businesses from refusing to do business with someone who won't provide a Social Security number.
Credit agencies use Social Security numbers to check applicants' financial histories, and they oppose that provision. Lawmakers concede it would make it more difficult for companies to conduct credit checks, but they say names, addresses, dates of birth and other information are sufficient.
Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., introduced the legislation in the Senate and said he hopes to attach it to some other bill under consideration.
"With Social Security numbers being used so frequently, that number has become the key for a criminal to assume your identity," Bunning said. "This bill will allow all Americans to keep their Social Security number far more secure."
The bills are H.R.4857 and S.2876.