How Consumer Protection Numbers (CPN) Work
What Is a CPN?
CPN” or “CPN number” can stand for credit privacy number, credit profile number, or consumer protection number. As you may know, a CPN is a 9-digit number that is often marketed as a replacement for your social security number (SSN).
Some people claim that celebrities and government officials use CPNs to maintain their privacy since SSNs are linked to a lot of personal information. However, there is no documented legitimate source of CPNs.
The Social Security Administration is the source for all SSNs and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is the source for all Employer Identification Numbers (EINs). These organizations do not issue CPNs and no other government entities issue such numbers.
You have probably seen some businesses claiming to sell CPNs as a way for consumers with poor credit to apply for credit with a “clean slate.” Since the CPN is a different number than your SSN, it does not have your credit report associated with it. These companies would like you to believe that you can purchase a CPN and use it instead of your SSN on credit applications, thereby hiding your true credit history from creditors.
A CPN might sound like a good solution if you have concerns about privacy or if you have had trouble with your own credit record and want to “start fresh.” However, you should exercise extreme caution when dealing with anyone trying to sell you a CPN. Keep reading to find out why.
How Do CPNs Work?
The Claims About CPNs
Sellers of CPNs often claim that the use of these numbers is permissible thanks to the U.S. Privacy Act of 1974. This act allows people to withhold their SSNs on documents if providing an SSN is not expressly required by federal law.
Since the federal government does not require that consumers provide SSNs on credit applications from private companies, you are free to withhold your SSN—however, the creditor is also free to deny you credit without this information. The U.S. Privacy Act of 1974 does not permit the use of CPNs on credit applications, contrary to what some credit repair companies would like you to believe.
The reason some people can get away with using false SSNs sold as CPNs on credit applications, instead of their real SSN, is that lenders sometimes fail to cross-verify applications thoroughly enough to confirm that the name on the application matches the listed SSN.
Where Do CPN Numbers Come From?
Although you may encounter many businesses offering “clean” CPN numbers for sale, they won’t tell you where these numbers came from or how they were obtained. They cannot provide legitimate documentation on where these numbers originated from.
Some sellers falsely claim that they have attorneys who can request a CPN number application from the government for you, but since the government does not issue CPNs, this is impossible. In reality, there are two ways that disreputable companies obtain so-called CPNs, both of which are illegal:
They use real SSNs that have been stolen from other people, often from children, the elderly, deceased people, homeless people, or those who are incarcerated. Scammers target these demographics because they are less likely to notice that their SSNs have been compromised. If someone promises to sell you a CPN that has a certain credit score or credit report, this is a big red flag that it is actually an SSN that has been stolen from someone else.
They create new, fake social security numbers that have not yet been issued by the United States government. They do this by using algorithms to generate 9-digit numbers and checking them against online databases to see which numbers can successfully pose as SSNs. They then sell these numbers as CPNs to unsuspecting consumers.
How to Get a CPN
The truth is that there is no legitimate way to obtain a CPN because CPNs are not issued or recognized by any government agency. As described above, the only way to get a CPN is to purchase a stolen or fake social security number on the black market.
While credit repair agencies and other companies who sell them may appear legitimate, there is nothing legitimate about buying a fraudulent SSN, which is what a CPN is. An SSN is a government identifying number and the government does not “sell” these numbers or offer CPN applications.
Some businesses may alternatively try to sell you an EIN, or employer identification number, promising that EINs are a legitimate form of CPNs. Although the IRS does issue EINs, these are exclusively for business use, which means that an individual hoping to improve their credit cannot legally use an EIN in place of their SSN.
In addition, according to the IRS, “EINs are issued for the purpose of tax administration and are not intended for participation in any other activities.” Businesses can obtain loans associated with their EIN number, but individuals may not use an EIN as an alternate SSN to obtain a personal loan.
The Social Security Administration has the authority to assign new SSN in extreme cases, but the requirements are strict. You can only get a new SSN if your life is in danger or if you can prove that someone has stolen your number, is actively using it, and is causing you significant continued harm.
If you do get a new SSN, your new number is still linked with the credit profile from your old number, and they both receive special indicators that help alert creditors of this change, so this would not work as a way to leave your credit history behind
Credit Privacy Numbers: Are They Legal?
To find out whether CPNs are legitimate and legal, we can go straight to the highest authority to see the official policy in writing. In this case, the highest authorities are the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Social Security Administration (SSA).
The FTC is a federal agency that polices business activities to help protect consumers and the Social Security Administration (SSA) is the agency that administers all Social Security-related programs, so these are the governing authorities when it comes to consumer protection, identity theft, and fraud. The policies of these federal institutions override any other opinions or lower-level organizations.
According to the FTC, “It is a federal crime to lie on a credit or loan application, misrepresent your Social Security number, and obtain an EIN from the IRS under false pretenses.”
Clearly, using a CPN on any credit or loan application that asks for your SSN is misrepresenting your Social Security number, which, as the FTC states, is illegal.
There are many credit repair companies and other businesses out there that may appear to be legitimate offering to sell you a CPN, but the bottom line is that if you misrepresent your SSN, you are committing a federal crime. This is verifiable in writing straight at the source, from the highest government agencies.
The Federal Trade Commission has issued warnings against companies that sell CPNs to those looking to improve their credit, labeling such practices as scams. Here is what the FTC has said about CPNs:
“The credit repair companies may tell you to apply for credit using the CPN or EIN, rather than your own Social Security number. And they may lie and tell you that this process is legal. But it’s a scam. These companies may be selling stolen Social Security numbers, often those taken from children. By using a stolen number as your own, the con artists will have involved you in identity theft.”
If you follow this advice and use a CPN instead of your SSN on a credit application, you could face some serious charges and prison time.
The Social Security Administration has also been very clear about their official stance on CPNs:
“The proliferation of Credit Privacy Numbers (CPNs) is a relatively new SSN misuse scheme and a threat to the security of child identity information… Despite what many of these credit repair websites imply, consumers should know that CPNs are not legal.”
Boosting Your CPN Credit Score
Credit repair companies that sell CPNs and CPN tradeline packages often say that it is easier to “boost” the credit scores of CPNs and allow you to essentially hide the bad credit record that may be associated with your real SSN.
While this tactic is becoming more common, the fact that it is happening does not make it legal. Attempting to hide previous bad credit by using a false SSN is misrepresenting your identity which is considered fraud on a federal level.
It is not surprising that the idea of buying a CPN and starting over with a clean slate appeals to many people. When consumers encounter misinformation circulated by disreputable companies and hear about others having success using CPNs, it is easy to see how someone could fall for this trap and unknowingly participate in criminal activity. Unfortunately, using CPNs as a quick fix for credit is indeed too good to be true.
The sad fact is that ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law, and blaming the company for selling illegal services does not make the consumer immune to the potential consequences. If someone does decide to purchase a CPN and use it instead of their SSN, they are creating a verifiable paper trail of this action that could come back to haunt them many years down the road, since records would be created every time a person uses this tactic.