There are countless services in the marketplace that aim to protect and improve your credit. While many of them can be helpful, some can be dangerous. One of the dangerous, but popular services being offered are credit privacy numbers. These are also known as credit profile numbers or CPNs.
What are CPNs?
CPNs are nine-digit identifying numbers, which promoters claim can be used in place of a social security number in certain situations. Credit repair companies cite the 1974 U.S. Privacy Act’s provision allowing an individual to withhold their social security number when a federal law does not require that they provide it.
While these companies use this statute to justify CPNs, there is no law explicitly allowing their use. Companies offering CPNs claim that they are a fast and simple way to repair your credit, secure new lines of credit and protect your identity. Regardless of what these companies may promise, the Social Security Administration classifies CPNs as a form of social security number misuse, and warns consumers that they are illegal.
Can CPNs clear your credit history?
By no means will a CPN give you a clean slate if you have bad credit. If you are trying to escape bad credit by using a CPN, creditors can still find your credit history through your name or address history.
Your social security number isn’t the only piece of information creditors will use to identify you. While you are not legally obliged to provide your social security number when applying for credit, the creditor is also not required to grant your request for credit. A creditor can deny your application if you chose to withhold your social security number, or provide a CPN. Additionally, you are still legally responsible for all debts incurred prior to obtaining a CPN as well as all debts incurred on your CPN.
Controversies over CPNs
The rules surrounding CPNs reside in a legal grey area. The U.S. Privacy Act states that an individual cannot be mandated to provide their private social security number, and the FBI claims that CPNs can be used for some credit reporting purposes in accordance with federal law. On the other hand, the Social Security Administration claims CPNs are illegal. Regardless of what the FBI or Social Security Administration say about CPNs, the industry is ripe with scams.
With companies offering CPN packages costing up to $3,500, it is important to stay vigilant against promoters who would harm you for their personal gain.
How to identify a fraudulent CPN practice
A company promising to fix your bad credit through a CPN is the first sign of a deceptive practice. The Federal Trade Commission identifies a number of signs that indicate a credit repair scam:
- Insist on payment before they do any work on your behalf
- Tell you not to contact the credit reporting companies directly
- Tell you to dispute information in your credit report that you know is accurate
- Tell you to give false information on your application for credit or a loan
- Don’t explain your legal rights when they tell you what they can do for you
Is Using a CPN Illegal?
Companies selling these numbers claim that CPNs are issued by the Social Security Office, so I decided to put this to the test. I called my local Social Security Office, and after speaking to representatives I was told they do not provide CPN applications. Many of these companies will insist that what they are providing is legal, but oftentimes they are selling stolen social security numbers. In some instances they are taken from children or people who are deceased. By using a fraudulent CPN you could unknowingly be committing a federal crime that is punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Additionally, using any number, including a CPN, as a replacement to a social security number is another federal crime punishable by up to 5 years in prison.
Prison Time From CPNs
If you haven’t been scared away from CPNs yet, consider the case of David Day. In 2013, 18 people, including Day, were arrested for taking part in a social security fraud scheme involving CPNs. The providers of the fraudulent numbers as well as people who had purchased them were among those arrested. These people used their CPN numbers to get a variety of loans and credit lines. Day, who was both a user and seller of CPNs, was sentenced to over 7 years in federal prison. This case makes clear that the federal government does not take social security fraud lightly.
The best way to avoid scammers and jail time is to simply avoid CPNs altogether. The entire CPN industry operates within a grey area of the law. The best way to ensure that you are not getting a fake or illegal product is to seek other credit remedies. On their website, the Federal Trade Commission provides a number of verified resources for consumers seeking help with credit and debt relief. Credit repair companies have no magic solution to fix bad credit that you can’t do yourself. Only time and good financial behavior can improve your credit profile.
For more steps on how to improve your credit, read Garrett Sutton’s book ABC’s of Getting Out of Debt.
Scott Cooper is a political studies major at Colby-Sawyer College in New London, New Hampshire. He wrote this article while a legal intern at Sutton Law Center.
 5 USC 552a
 Office of the Inspector General. “Field Hearing on Social Security Numbers and Child Identity Theft. 2001. https://oig.ssa.gov/newsroom/congressional-testimony/field-hearing-social-security-numbers-and-idenity-theft
 Federal Bureau of Investigation. “2008 Mortgage Fraud Report”. 2008. https://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/mortgage-fraud-2008
 Federal Trade Commission. “Credit Repair Scams”. https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0225-credit-repair-scams
 “Indianapolis man sentenced in identity theft scheme”. The United States District Attorney’s Office: Southern District of Indiana. Nov 25, 2015. https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdin/pr/indianapolis-man-sentenced-identity-theft-scheme