Just a few (ahem) years ago when I was in college, I completely took for granted the importance of my Social Security number. I had to use it to turn in homework, to find my grade posted outside the professor's office (to respect our privacy our names weren't used), and as a Resident Advisor, I had a list of the names and Social Security numbers of all the girls living on my floor including my own. In fact, I still have the list for the day I finally get around to labeling all the pictures in my photo album.
I cringe now just thinking about how easily accessible that information was to me, a college student. And it didn't end there. All of our dorms were secure meaning there were no unauthorized guests. Residents had to come to the lobby to meet their guest and sign them in by providing the guest's drivers' license. Our desk staff was trained to write down the guests' Social Security numbers if available on their drivers' license.
We've all gotten a little smarter these days. By law1, states no longer display Social Security numbers on drivers' licenses. When I first entered the work force, my insurance provider used my Social Security number as part of my insurance ID. Within a year they had replaced this with an internally generated number that wasn't tied to a Social. But I often wonder if any other former Resident Advisor or others trusted with my data still have my Social Security number. Given what I do for a living, I know what someone could do with that information. I know it wouldn't take much more to piece together enough to use that data and steal my identity. And I know that as we've gotten smarter, so have identity thieves.