To help blunt the frequency of identity theft, lawmakers need to address gaps in federal requirements for safeguarding Social Security numbers shared with private-sector contractors, according to a study by the Government Accountability Office.

In its report, the GAO examined how certain industries share consumer SSNs with contractors; the safeguards and notable industry standards in place to ensure protection of Social Security numbers when shared with contractors; and how federal agencies regulate and monitor the sharing and safeguarding of Social Security numbers between private entities and their contractors.

In the past, House members have raised concerns regarding the sharing of consumer information because private-sector entities are more likely to share consumers' personal information via contractors.

For the report the GAO interviewed companies in four sectors -- banks, securities firms, telecommunications companies and tax-prep concerns -- that routinely obtain SSNs from their customers for authentication and identification purposes, and contract out various services, such as data processing and customer service.

Although these companies may share consumer information, such as SSNs, with contractors, company officials maintained that they only share such information with their contractors when it's necessary or unavoidable.

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