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What Is an SSN Trace?

In the business world, you’ll find that it’s prudent for you and other stakeholders to know what a social security number or SSN trace is in recruiting and vetting potential new candidates for your workforce. Ideally, you will feel confident that you understand what an SSN trace background check shows and when and why you should use it.

SS numbers are administered by the Social Security Administration. Since individuals need to submit their SSN when filing their taxes, the ability to do a social security number trace has become a natural part of backgrounding people. You can’t hire someone without obtaining their information, which is needed so that you can deduct taxes from their pay.

But over the years, numerous entities started requesting social security numbers to use in their databases. As a result, people have been providing their SSN details to various institutions, from landlords to banks to credit card companies. This has led to social security numbers appearing in all kinds of systems, some of which are available for companies to search through when needing to look into someone’s background.

So, it’s easy to see why a social security number trace is a crucial aspect of the hiring process at any company, large or small. It’s needed so your organization can obtain a complete picture as you do your database search into the background of a potential recruit.

We’ll explain the SSN trace meaning and why running it on background checks is useful while highlighting some limitations and giving a sense of the reliability of a trace report when conducting record searches.

What is an SSN Trace

An SSN trace is a database search that finds information such as names and addresses associated with the social security number, and the state and year the number was issued. It is a very useful step in the background check process to confirm the SSN number is valid and matches the name and address the candidate has provided.

It is important to note, however, that it cannot confirm that the number submitted by the candidate actually belongs to them. A full identity verification should be included in the background check process for this reason. 

What Does An SSN Trace Show?

SSN tracing will show you information including:

  • Year when the government issued the SSN to a person
  • If the SSN is a valid number or not
  • Address history that is connected to the SSN in question
  • Names that are associated with the SSN, such as any aliases, or a woman’s maiden name before marriage


Remember that information from SSN tracing is not intended to be the sole criteria you use when deciding whether to hire someone. It is to be considered as part of your hiring toolkit, not the sole arbiter. 

SSN Trace Complete vs. Clear

When you conduct SSN traces for background checks, you will see the results labeled as “clear” or “consider.” “The “clear” designation means that all of the screening results show a clear status, which means there should be nothing adverse in the person’s history. A report with a “consider” designation means there is some information that you and your associates will have to review before making a final decision.

There are a few more key differences between an SSN trace complete vs. clear. A “complete” status may show up instead of “clear” or “consider.” When you see “complete,” this indicates that the screening is done for educational or employment verification, or that no actionable records appeared from a criminal database lookup.

Main Reasons to Run an SSN Trace

Perhaps there are some members of your team who do not see much of a reason to look up people’s social security numbers when they come asking about a job opportunity.

Their reasoning may be because SSN lookups simply were not part of the workflow in their previous positions, or they do not realize the importance of checking people’s backgrounds before allowing them to enter positions of trust on your payroll. When looking to hire candidates, keep these main reasons to run an SSN trace background check top of mind:

1. Gives a Clear Understanding of the Person’s Identity

It’s certainly possible that a person has a good reason for changing their name, such as to better reflect their sense of self after a sexual transition. 

Sometimes, a name change occurs when someone gets married. Having detailed information from a social security trace will allow you to see the person through time, even if they are making changes to their identity and paperwork.

2. Uncovers Criminal History

It’s of the utmost importance that you screen candidates to rule out those with a violent criminal past. If someone lies to you during the recruitment process, it can be a sign that he or she will not tell the truth while under your employ as well. This is why so many organizations run SSN traces, to determine if the individual’s past matches with what’s written in the resume, leaving out nothing bad from the record. An SSN trace ensures you can conduct thorough criminal record checks. 

3. Exposes Employment Gaps

If one particular job was not a good fit in the past for a jobseeker you are currently considering, it’s valuable information that you and your HR team will want to keep in mind.

But if an applicant conveniently leaves out past positions of employment, this can be a red flag indicating some trouble at one or many of those previous establishments. This is why an SSN trace background check is considered such an important tool in human resources. If you’re wondering how to do an SSN trace, continue reading this helpful guide.

How To Run An SSN Trace Background Check

To obtain useful information about a jobseeker’s past, you may now be wondering how to do an SSN trace. For newcomers like yourself, it’s generally not a good idea to attempt such research without proper training and knowledge.

Ideally, you will partner with professionals with plenty of experience in the background checking industry, and that have a good reputation.

Remember that if you need some advice or assistance, you can work with KarmaCheck, which will help you with all of the ins and outs of running background checks.

You will always obtain consent from job candidates, asking their permission before running a check into their background.

Get Started With Social Security Number Tracing

To learn more about your rights and responsibilities when doing an SSN trace during a routine background check or to determine how you will work with sources of information such as criminal record databases, we are here to help. Contact the background screening experts at KarmaCheck today.


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