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It seems like lately everyone seems to be asking about Credit Privacy Numbers, or CPNs, and how they can be used when applying for credit. Depending on the source of your research, the information may be wholly positive or wholly negative. While CPNs can be a valuable resource for a select group of recipients, they are certainly not intended to be used as a replacement for the standard measure of identity, your social security number.

Also known as Credit Profile Numbers, CPNs are useful for military leaders, movie stars, government officials, or other public figures who are hoping to shield themselves from identity theft. CPNs are also typically assigned to victims or witnesses placed into federal protection programs. I often refer to CPNs as “Credit Piracy Numbers” because, in many instances, that is exactly what the users are attempting to do – steal or pirate credit.

There are companies who advertise the ability to build a new, cleaner credit profile for those with poor credit history, but even the most legitimate of these companies often don’t provide all the facts about what the purchaser is buying into.

A CPN is a nine-digit identification number that acts like a social security number (SSN) and, for certain people, may be used in lieu of an SSN for obtaining credit. Because of their potential to be used by fraudsters, they have also raised red flags with certain agencies who view them as suspicious, even fraudulent. It is for this reason that the government has placed protective shields around federal funding and its availability to those who are using CPNs as a primary identifier.

Even though you have a right to keep your SSN private, you are required by law to disclose it to employers and certain agencies, such as the Internal Revenue Service, motor vehicle department, federally insured lenders, or when buying a firearm, even if you have a legitimate CPN in place.

Although a legal CPN can be used when applying for credit cards and obtaining financing that is not government related, the practice has garnished a negative stigma due to some less-than-desirable techniques practiced and the frauds being perpetrated by an unsuspecting public. Customers are typically sold a CPN and told that they can use the number in place of their true SSN to create a new credit file. While the number they generate can be a random selection of nine digits, oftentimes the new CPN will match a SSN belonging to underage minor children or deceased individuals.

Fraudsters oftentimes will use this new CPN number and the new credit file in an attempt to intentionally hide bad credit history. The use of fabricated information or a stolen SSN to obtain credit that the applicant is not otherwise qualified for constitutes fraud. Certain federal programs, such as Freddie Mac, Sallie Mae, FHA, and SBA have made their position very clear: Credit Privacy Numbers cannot be used when applying for their government sponsored home or business loan options.