California’s Employment Development Department (EDD) has sent out communications that contain the Social Security numbers of at least 38 million state residents since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a recent audit.
The EDD’s practice of mailing documents that include the full Social Security numbers of their intended recipients greatly elevates the risk of identity theft, according to California State Auditor Elaine Howle, who urged a halt to the practice in 2019.
“EDD has not yet removed SSNs from some of the most commonly mailed documents as we recommended, meaning that EDD has continued to place Californians at risk of identity theft,” said Howle in an open letter to Governor Gavin Newsom.
In the letter, Howle indicated that the rise in unemployment claims since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic has escalated the urgency of the problem.
“As millions more Californians filed unemployment benefit claims, the number of pieces of mail that EDD sent with SSNs printed on them increased dramatically. EDD must take swift action to end its potentially harmful practice and better safeguard the identities of the residents it serves…Although EDD generally agreed with our recommendations when we issued our report in early 2019, it has not fully implemented them in the time since,” the letter states.
The letter also referenced a number of mailings sent to incorrect or outdated addresses, further increasing the opportunity for identity theft scams.
“EDD’s practice of including full SSNs on certain mailed documents has resulted in many individuals’ SSNs being delivered to strangers who may choose to exploit the inappropriate mailings. We inspected a small amount of the returned mail...and found multiple examples of mailings containing full SSNs,” said Howle.
Howle also warned of widespread fraud abusing the state unemployment system, citing the example of a single recipient receiving 65 pieces of mail addressed to fifteen different people.
EDD responded to the audit’s findings:
“EDD is committed to protecting the confidentiality of our claimants’ information and protecting them and our programs from fraud. One of EDD’s priorities is to replace claimants’ SSNs from the top three high-volume unemployment forms with another unique identifier. We acknowledge and appreciate the urgency of the Auditor’s timeline, and although we are admittedly behind schedule, we continue to diligently work to protect the identities of those we serve.”
The Governor’s office has yet to release an official response to the letter.