Review Finds More Than 38,000 Social Security Numbers Exposed By Agriculture Department

Monday, April 23rd 2007, 4:50 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A final review concluded Monday that the Social Security numbers of 38,700 recipients of Agriculture Department grants had been posted on a government Web site since 1996.

Federal officials initially feared that as many as 150,000 Social Security numbers had been exposed by the security breach, discovered by Illinois farmer Marsha Bergmeier. The numbers were promptly removed after she reported her find to the government on April 13.

Federal officials said they were not aware of any identify thefts using the posted numbers but are offering a year of free credit monitoring to affected individuals.

Rep. Zack Space, D-Ohio, asked the House Agriculture Committee to conduct a hearing into why the breach occurred and what steps are being taken to minimize any harm and prevent a recurrence. There was no immediate response from the committee chairman, Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.

The numbers were not identified as Social Security numbers on the Census Bureau Web site that posts federal grants and their recipients, but the nine-digit Social Security number of individual recipients was incorporated in 15-digit grant identification numbers used by two Agriculture Department units.

Reviewing the postings since 1996 to determine how many people showed up more than once and how many grants were not to individuals, the department was able to narrow the potential list to 63,000 individual Social Security numbers by late last Friday and to 38,700 when the review was completed Monday.

Agriculture said about 35,000 of those people received grants from its Farm Service Agency and another 3,700 affected individuals received grants from USDA Rural Development.

Agriculture is sending registered mail to these people with instructions on how to register for free credit monitoring. Grant recipients with questions can visit or call 1-800-333-4636 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. EDT Monday-Friday.