More Privacy Urged for Account Data; Comptroller Questions the Use of Social Security Numbers as Codes

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More Privacy Urged for Account Data

Comptroller Questions the Use of Social Security Numbers as Codes

Consumer groups and regulators are pressing banks to beef up security procedures for telephone banking services that provide customers with confidential account information.

Customers can access many of these services with Touch Tone telephones simply by dialing a special number and punching in their account number and a portion of their Social Security number.

Regulators and consumer groups say using Social Security numbers as personal identification numbers, instead of special security codes, can cause breaches in security and privacy since those numbers are easily obtained from public documents.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in Washington issued an advisory letter to bank executives late last month stating that banks should devise personal identification numbers, or PINs, for telephone access to accounts because Social Security numbers "may not safeguard account security for bank customers."

Examiners May Act

Banks' current security measures "could make the unauthorized access to customer accounts or frauds easier," the letter states. "The use of Social Security numbers as PINs could subject the bank to civil liability. In addition, national bank examiners may cite this practice as an internal control exception."

The letter does not require banks to offer special security codes.

"We're trying to discourage" the use of Social Security numbers, said a spokesperson for the Comptroller's Office.

Bankers say the use of Social Security numbers is a convenience for customers, and are easier to process than using special security codes. Most say that they have not received complaints from customers.

Service Keeps Costs Down

Telephone banking services, which have been around for several years, are heralded as a a convenient, low-cost way of providing customers with information about their accounts around-the-clock. …