They've Got Your Number

Luis Fonsi performs at an event honoring Ricky Martin as the Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year at the Sheraton Hotel & Towers in New York on Nov. 1, 2006.
AP Photo/Jason DeCrow
Your Social Security number, along with other personal information is being bought and sold without your consent. In part three of our three-part series, Invasion of Privacy, CBS News Correspondent Richard Schlesinger reports it's legal and there is little you can do about it.
The old expression is true. There are a million stories in the naked city and all of them are easy to find and easy to read because our lives are open books.

The government has become concerned about how easy it is to find almost anyone's Social Security number. David Medine is with the Federal Trade Commission. "There are industries out there that sell information about people which may include Social Security numbers," says Medine. "Social Security numbers are the key to lots and lots of individuals whether it's their bank files, their medical history, their credit reports."

Invasion of Privacy
Check out the first two parts of this three-part series on privacy.

Part 1: Is Big Brother Watching At Work?

Part 2: World's Greatest Prying Eye

And Joe Saponaro has millions of keys at his fingertips through his computer. He runs the Elite Investigations Agency in Lower Manhattan. "That's like the key that opens your life, the Social Security number," says Saponaro.

It took no time to learn all about one Gavin Boyle, a senior producer of the Evening News. Using only his name Saponaro found Boyle's Social Security number in just eight seconds.

Not only that, he found Boyle's date of birth, his middle initial and the exact address where he lives; not bad for eight seconds work.

A few more minutes brought a lot more information. "Oh, they own a house," discovers Saponaro and how much he paid for it.

And Saponaro is breaking no laws. In this case, he had permission but he didn't have to.

Courts have ruled that private information about people, including Social Security numbers, is really public information. A lot of companies treat such information as a commodity to be bought and sold to credit card companies, tele-marketers, your next door neighbor or your boss. And there is very little you can do about it.

It's quick and easy to get. Information that inobody's business is selling like nobody's business.