A (partial) list of vanity identifiers

One of those things that organisations love to do is issue identifiers. My credit card provider issues me with a Customer ID, a Billing ID, a Reference Number, and an online login ID. All of which are different. And none of which match the embossed plastic card they sent me.

The state also issues identifiers. I know, I know, I am not a number, I am a free man. But I have a passport number which is different from my National Insurance Number which is different from my NHS number which is different from my Council Tax reference.

And so it goes.

That made me think. People are vain. Some people are vain and rich. Could we sell these people "vanity" identifiers? People pay big money for lucky or memorable phone numbers. Would they do the same for Government issued IDs?

(No. No they wouldn't. This is a silly idea born out of a brainstorming session. This is not a policy paper. This is a bit of fun on a dreary lockdown weekend.)

There is precedent for this.

The UK's Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency will happily sell you a personalised numberplate for your car. Most countries - I guess - do something similar.

You can also buy a customised postcode (Zipcode). Handy if you want an easy to remember address.

In the UK, there is no such thing as a legal name, and you're free to rename yourself. But you can pay a modest sum to register your change of name.

I'm genuinely surprised that the hyper-commercial USA doesn't let people pay for a "cool" Social Security Number. Preferring instead to issue them randomly. They don't even let you buy a custom zipcode.

A whole bunch of countries sell citizenship. That gets you a passport. But none that I can see let you pick a Passport Number that ends 007.

Would Apple pay for a custom company number? I bet they'd go for 02241955.

What other customised identifies does the state sell? Do any other countries let you buy weird personalised things? Let me know in the comments!

8 thoughts on “A (partial) list of vanity identifiers

  1. I suspect that buying a postcode is quite unusual. Certainly in Australia and South Africa, at least, postcodes cover quite large geographic regions -- a few thousands or tens of thousands of houses. According to Wikipedia, there's a postcode in AU for 100,000 people, and another for 22 towns!

    An interesting question around vanity identifiers is whether it opens you up to attack -- if someone's tax file number, for example, is easily guessable, can that be parlayed into additional information and access by a bad actor? The current system is, I guess, just security by obscurity in that context. It actually makes me wonder whether there would be an opportunity around paying for a harder-to-guess identifier -- twelve digits instead of nine, for example.

  2. says:

    I think aircraft call signs are approved by civil aviation authorities, but there’s a certain amount of discretion that allows pilots to personalise at no cost

  3. Ofcom allow radio amateurs to select their callsign suffix (three letters) so I am M0RPK – my initials. Until very recently they were also reselling old 4 char callsigns for vanity. Several members of my club got them. Are Ofcom “the state” or a quango though?

  4. In Poland some companies influence (probably with money) how streets are named. Mercedes's headquarters in Poland is on a newly created 1 Daimler Street.

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