‘Dummy’ SSN for teen contraception was a Minnesotan’s number, Oregon says

Published 8:13 am Thursday, June 8, 2017

By S. M. Chavey

St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL — For five years, Oregon Health officials used a “dummy” social security number to help thousands of teenagers register for free contraceptive care. Turns out, that was no dummy, but the number of an actual person from Minnesota.

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The Oregon Health Authority began using a dummy number in 2010 for teenagers who did not give their Social Security numbers. Medical clinics were directed to enter in the dummy number as a placeholder. A vendor had provided the dummy number.

“The vendor … recommended using what they referred to at the time as ‘an unknown SSN’ for a client under 20. They assigned us the number and told us that it would not be violating the SSN administration rules for assigning SSN,” Oregon Health Authority Public Health Division Leader Jonathan Modie said. “It was a temporary internal placeholder.”

Then in 2015, Oregon officials were contacted by the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General, alerting them that the number belonged to a real person. Oregon stopped using the dummy number about a week later.

The gaffe became public last week when Parents Rights in Education — an organization concerned about sex ed in Oregon schools — criticized the use of the dummy number.

“It is a Federal Crime to give a false SSN for the purpose of receiving federal benefits or assistance. Medicaid is a Federal Program,” a statement from the group said. The Parents Rights in Education group had researched the issue and learned the number was assigned to a resident in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area in 2003 or 2004.

The organization released the Social Security number, but not the identity of the actual person.

While Parents Rights in Education notes that using an assigned Social Security number raised the issue of identify theft, a 2009 Supreme Court decision ruled that a person must know they are using a real person’s Social Security number in order to be convicted of identify theft.

Oregon officials resolved the issue by updating its software so that a dummy number was no longer necessary to register. The state contacted federal regulators and the Social Security Administration and were told their solution was satisfactory, Modie said.

—Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.