Submitted by Charleston Voice
Jan. 27, 2005
Consumers could be warned, but U.S government isn't talking...
Linda Trevino, who lives in a Chicago suburb, applied for a job last year at a local Target department store, and was denied. The reason? She already worked there -- or rather, her Social Security number already worked there.
Follow-up investigations revealed the same Social Security number had been used to obtain work at 37 other employers, mostly by illegal immigrants trying to satisfy government requirements to get a job.
Trevino is hardly alone. MSNBC.com research and government reports suggest hundreds of thousands of American citizens are in the same spot -- unknowingly lending their identity to illegal immigrants so they can work. And while several government agencies and private corporations sometimes know whose Social Security numbers are being ripped off, they won't notify the victims. That is, until they come after the victims for back taxes or unpaid loans owed by the imposter.
It's a thorny problem that cuts to the heart of America's undocumented worker issue. Immigration opponents say it's another reason to shut the borders tight; immigrant rights groups point out that identity theft is an inevitable outcome of unfair labor laws that push foreign visitors deeper into the shadows.
'People need to wake up to this problem. They are destroying people's credit, Social Security benefits, and everything else.' - Richard Hamp assistant attorney general for state of Utah
Either way, immigrant imposters with the least nefarious of intentions -- simply a desire to work -- often unknowingly victimize the rightful Social Security number holders. The problem is compounded by how often ripped-off numbers are used. James Lee, chief marketing officer for private data collection firm ChoicePoint, said the average victim of immigrant-based identity theft sees their Social Security number shared about 30 times.
"The numbers get passed around a family, and around neighborhoods," he said.
"People need to wake up to this problem," said Richard Hamp, an assistant attorney general for the state of Utah who has prosecuted several cases involving stolen IDs and illegal immigrants. "They are destroying people's credit, Social Security benefits, and everything else. This problem has been ignored by the federal government, and it's enormous."
But could Trevino, and all the other victims, be warned by the government? After all, several agencies and corporations found her when they wanted her money. Until then, not a single one had bothered to warn her that someone else was using her Social Security number.
Everyone benefits -- except the victim
Melody Millet's husband Steve was the victim of immigrant identity theft. None of the agencies involved are trying to tackle the problem because they all benefit from it, as does corporate America, she said. The IRS and Social Security collect extra taxes, lenders sell more loans and employers get inexpensive workers. Fixing the problem and telling all the victimized consumers would upset the delicate apple cart that is America's immigration policy, she said.
"The government is forcing people to share identities because they want to provide cheap labor to corporate America," Melody Millet said.
An undocumented immigrant worker managed to use Steve Millet's Social Security number for more than 10 years before the incident was discovered. Millet said the imposter managed to obtain a dozen credit cards, buy a car, and even a house using the stolen number and his own name. All the while, that imposter paid taxes, paid into Social Security, and took out loans using the stolen Social Security Number. All of those agencies had a record of the abused SSN; none bothered to tell Steve Millet.
"You can't find out except by accident," Melody Millet said. "They are not required to notify us. No one is required to notify you. The way it sits now, our lives were ruined. We will never have again a normal financial life."
$420 billion in accounting limbo http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6814673/page/2/
Credit reports don't help http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6814673/page/3/
Mismatches go unchecked http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6814673/page/4/
Bob Sullivan is author of Your Evil Twin: Behind the Identity Theft Epidemic. http://www.youreviltwin.net/
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