What Is An SSN Trace For Background Checks? (And Why It May Not Be Enough)

Illustration of a Social Security card over the map of the US, with pinpoints of different states associated with it.

A Social Security number trace, or SSN Trace, is often a first step in the background screening process. But is doing an SSN Trace enough?

Find out what an SSN Trace is, what it reveals, and why it should be just one step in confirming a job candidate’s identification, conducting a thorough background check, and making confident hiring decisions.

There are many steps during the employment screening process, but one of the first steps is often an SSN Trace, which may leave employers and candidates asking: What is an SSN Trace? 

GoodHire is breaking down what an SSN Trace is, what it reveals, and why it may not be enough for employers who want to assess and confirm their candidates’ identification in order to conduct a thorough background check and feel confident in their hiring decisions.

What Is An SSN Trace?

An SSN Trace, also called a Social Security Number Trace, is an important discovery and accountability tool for employers and candidates. That’s because it assesses whether a candidate’s Social Security number (SSN) is valid, confirms that it matches their name and date of birth, and reveals previously associated addresses so you know which states or counties to search in future screenings. 

An SSN Trace is typically launched at the time the background check process starts. An SSN Trace helps pinpoint which state or county criminal record databases should be searched. Keep in mind that an SSN Trace is different from Identity Verification because of the information it does (and does not) reveal.

What Does An SSN Trace Show?

An SSN Trace reveals a few details that are important in the hiring screening process. An SSN Trace: 

  • Assesses whether a candidate’s Social Security number is valid
  • Confirms that a candidate’s name and date of birth matches the SSN they provided 
  • Provides associated addresses to inform states or counties to conduct background searches in
  • Offers additional candidate names to use for more research, like maiden names or other aliases

However, what an SSN does not show is whether the SSN actually belongs to the candidate—despite whether it matches their address and date of birth.

Why Is An SSN Needed In A Background Check?

Obviously, a Social Security number is required to run an SSN Trace, but there are several other reasons an SSN is needed for an in-depth background check, such as a criminal records check

First, Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRAs) like GoodHire use it to check whether the number is valid and belongs to the name provided to help return accurate background check information about the right person. 

Next, an SSN is used to find a candidate’s most recent addresses—which are not just limited to home addresses. For example, if a candidate has applied for credit in any other county or state, those addresses may show up on a candidate’s results even though they never lived there.

Why is this important? To confirm whether the candidate isn’t someone with the same or similar name (and in some cases, the same birthdate) as someone else.

Additional state and county searches are also important to conduct the most thorough check on candidates, and an SSN helps provide that address information. For example, if a candidate has lived in more than one state or several different counties during the previous seven years, SSN trace results will provide this information, allowing you to conduct criminal record searches in those jurisdictions. An SSN Trace will help you ensure no stone is left unturned during the screening process.

Why Do Employers Need To Do More Than An SSN Trace?

While an SSN Trace is a great tool in your screening process, it does not confirm whether the SSN actually belongs to the candidate—despite whether it matches their address and date of birth. 

That’s because other issues like mistaken identity and identity theft can cause additional hurdles with SSN Traces and background checks. In other words: Candidates may be the victim of mistaken identity or identity theft, or they are using a fake identity to apply for jobs.

That’s why it’s important to invest in more than just an SSN Trace to protect your company from:

  • Hiring a candidate who isn’t who they say they are
  • Denying a job offer to a qualified candidate whose SSN doesn’t match for a reason beyond their control
  • Delays caused by time-consuming candidate dispute processes 

Take The Extra Step With Identity Verification From GoodHire

While performing an SSN Trace is a helpful and valuable tool in the screening process, adding Identification Verification to your screening process acts as an extra layer of security. It’s particularly helpful for: 

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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

Ashley Blonquist is a former news journalist. She writes about GoodHire’s employment screening services and how employers use them to make informed hiring decisions.