In this age of cybersecurity threats and identity theft, you can never be too careful with your own personal information. This is especially true when it comes to your Social Security number (SSN). Your Social Security number is yours after all, and there’s no number like it. Thus, it’s understandable that you’d be hesitant to put your SSN on any document if you didn’t have to. And if an alternative number were possible that was just as good, you’d be inclined to use it, right?
Doing so would be a terrible mistake and we’re going to talk about why.
The Rise of CPNs
If you’re unfamiliar with the acronym CPN, consider this your first exposure to a term you’ll certainly hear more often. CPN stands for Credit Privacy Number and it is marketed as a nine-digit identifying number that you can use in place of your Social Security number. The benefit, of course, is that this new, alternative number will protect you from exposing your real SSN to credit risk, privacy issues or other challenges related to applying for a credit card, loan, etc.
According to the scammers, all of the benefits of a CPN can be yours if you’ll only pay the required fee to establish a CPN of your own. Even the Federal Trade Commission has “warned against companies offering a new credit identity by selling CPNs, calling it a scam.” What you won’t hear from those trying to sell you a CPN is that the number is either a randomly generated, meaningless number or worse, a real Social Security number stolen from an unsuspecting victim — often a minor.
What Happens If You Use a CPN?
CPNs are fictional numbers, not recognized by any governing body. Because of this, any positive credit history you think you are building up through an account using a CPN will be judged null and void. This is a relatively minor negative impact, however, when compared to more serious consequences.
These scammers often require disclosure of your valid SSN to establish your CPN, which can be sold or reused once a dispute is sent to the credit report agency and will often result in identity theft.
Also, if the CPN you are using is a real Social Security number belonging to someone else, your use of that number could expose you to identity theft concerns and the risk of fines or even jail time for such actions, all for using a number you thought was going to make you safer.
To protect yourself from any complications that can arise because of a CPN, the best solution is to never purchase one. The pitches can be persuasive, and you may hear that CPNs are legal or that they have been endorsed by lawyers, credit card companies or your credit union and are a great way to repair your credit. Don’t believe the hype. This is all part of the scam and its goal is to take your money while leaving you with a nine-digit number that is at best meaningless and at worst subjecting you to a role as an accomplice in the very identity theft you were seeking to protect yourself from.
The Federal Trade Commission offers these helpful tips to help you identify a CPN or Credit Repair Scam:
- they insist on payment first, before any work has been done
- they tell you to NOT contact the credit reporting agencies directly
- they tell you to dispute information in your credit report, even when it’s accurate
- they tell you to give false information on your applications for credit or a loan, including using the CPN as your SSN
- they can’t or won’t explain your legal rights regarding what they can do for you
If you are looking to hire a company specializing in credit repair, be sure to know your rights under the Credit Repair Organizations Act. Fraudulent credit repair companies won’t play by these rules. Be sure to research all companies thoroughly before providing your personal information, including your SSN.