What is an SSN Trace?

Sara Korolevich
December 18, 2023
4 min read

Many pre-employment background checks begin with a Social Security number (SSN) Trace. An SSN Trace is an important pre-discovery tool in a comprehensive background screening and assessing the information can help employers conduct more thorough additional searches.

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Here's what you need to know about SSN Trace, including how they work, which details you'll receive, and how to run one.

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What is an SSN Trace?

An SSN Trace searches databases (including lending institutions, utilities, schools, and credit card companies) for a Social Security number.  The information returned to the consumer reporting agency (CRA) conducting the search may include the year and state in which the number was issued by the Social Security Administration, associated names, and address history.

Keep in mind, though, that an SSN Trace doesn't confirm the identity of the candidate – it can only provide indication of the validity of the SSN provided. For example, if the SSN is associated with any other names or is listed on the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File. As a result, employers may wish to perform additional identity checks, such as Knowledge-Based Authentication, as part of their onboarding process.

SSN Traces are used as a “pointer” search – a screening used to cast a wide net when conducting a comprehensive background check. The results of an SSN Trace will identify jurisdictions where employers may wish to conduct additional searches, such as a criminal background check. Generally, SSN Trace results aren’t reportable and shouldn’t be used for Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) purposes.

What shows up on a Social Security background check?

An SSN Trace, sometimes also referred to as a Social Security background check, will return information related to a Social Security number, which may include:

  • The year the SSN was issued
  • The state in which the SSN was issued
  • Associated names, including aliases and maiden names
  • Recent and associated addresses

However, depending on the CRA, the results returned to employers on a background screening report may vary.

How to run an SSN Trace background check

When screening candidates, one of the most efficient and compliant ways to run an SSN Trace background check is to partner with an FCRA-compliant background check provider.

A DIY approach to background checks may make the hiring process more challenging. For instance, while employers can ask for a Social Security number on job applications, candidates aren't legally obligated to provide one. If a candidate feels uncomfortable sharing that information, working with a CRA can help as the candidate will provide their details directly and securely to the CRA. Checkr, for example, truncates and encrypts SSNs in its protected databases to ensure data privacy.

A CRA can also help employers conduct additional background screenings based on the results on an SSN Trace while navigating the complexities of employment laws, such as the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

What employers need in a background check

Starting a background check with an SSN Trace is important because it can help you spot potential issues early on in the hiring process. For example, if there is a discrepancy between the candidate’s submitted information and the information associated with the Social Security number. If they don't match, it could be a potential sign of identity theft or a false identity, or it could be a case of user error when inputting the numbers. An SSN Trace may also help ensure that additional background checks are conducted on the correct individual.

You can also use an SSN Trace as a stepping stone for more in-depth screenings. For example, you can use the associated addresses as a starting point for a county criminal background check.

Get a background check with Checkr

No matter the extent of your background check process, an SSN Trace can be an important first step. Checkr’s easy-to-order packages include an SSN Trace to help employers conduct comprehensive background checks.

We offer background screening options for businesses of all sizes, including criminal searches, employment and education verification, MVR checks, and drug testing. Our advanced platform helps to save time and reduce human error, while our built-in compliance tools make your hiring process more efficient.

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The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

About the author

Sara Korolevich serves as checkr.com’s editor and content manager. In this role, she produces educational resources for employers on a broad range of screening topics, including background check compliance and best practices. She also writes about Checkr’s company and product news to keep customers updated and informed.

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