Identity theft is something that happens to other people; generally they’re people you don’t know, and you don’t really care about. But here’s something to ponder if you’re the parent of a child or children who are under the age of 18: Odds are increasing dramatically that their Social Security numbers have been stolen and you don’t even know about it, at least not until your kids start working and paying taxes.
That was the case of “Garret,” a 16-year-old Los Osos resident whose mother, “Margie,” discovered that his checking account had been garnished by the State Franchise Tax Board because his Social Security number had been used by a guy Margie calls Juan Garcia (in real life, he has a Latino name).
The story, as Margie laid it out for me, had a Kafkaesque quality, especially when, as she says, “The process of discovery and defense will fall squarely on the identity of the theft victim.”
I noted some of the travails that Garret and Margie had endured in last week’s column. As Paul Harvey was wont to say, now for the rest of the story.
For all the trouble Juan Garcia has caused Margie and Garret — using Garret’s Social Security number from the year 2000 and generating 3 inches of paperwork with local, state and federal agencies trying to straighten out his subterfuge — both Marge and Garret have a grudging admiration for the thief.
First, although he’s undoubtedly in the U.S. illegally, and probably bought a bogus Social Security card with Garret’s numbers at any one of numerous places, he’s gone to community college, worked in a winery and cashed out a 401(k) plan.
“Over the years,” says Margie of her investigation, “he’s earned a total of $214,131. His federal, Social Security and Medicare withholdings amount to $21,943.
“According to the IRS, he’s never filed a federal tax return and there are no W-2’s available after 2008.”
Also according to the IRS, the only way to get the guy to quit using Garret’s Social Security number is through law enforcement, but that’s been proving a problem.
Margie filed a crime report with the Sheriff’s Department and has updated the report at least twice. She’s been told that the reports were forwarded to the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department.
Calls to that agency revealed that no one there knew of the case. Which leads one to wonder: Was the crime report really sent to Mendocino?
After yet one more try to get an answer, Margie heard from a detective sergeant in Mendocino who said they didn’t have any of the information. Margie then faxed him the original crime report from our county, along with W-2 forms. She’s yet to hear back.
What grinds my molars fine is that all of the agencies involved — IRS, Social Security, state Franchise Tax Board, congressional offices — shrug and say it’s out of their hands, that it’s the job of law enforcement, and then law enforcement seemingly shrugs, too.
OK, we live in a world that’s whipping along in ways that those of us not directly involved in cyber-security can’t quite fathom. Certainly when Social Security was created in 1936 — and flimsy little blue and white cards were not issued as the definitive means of personal ID — but no one could have imagined how a wired world of criminal freaks could and would tweak such primitive technology.
And, according to an Associated Press story in this paper last week, seeing as how identity theft is expected to increase 500 percent this year, you’d think that the victim of such theft wouldn’t be left pretty much on his or her own with government agencies giving a collective shrug while tongue clucking in commiseration. You’d think.
So, thanks to Margie, here’s what you can do if you or your children become victims of identity theft (you may want to cut this out for future reference):
Watch for any unusual activity or mail on a minor’s account and request copies of transaction records on those accounts. Keep detailed notes of names, dates, times, telephone numbers, correspondence and contact information.
Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center in San Diego by calling 858-639-7935, or at www.idtheftcenter.org (look under “Problems and Solutions”). It’s run by identity theft victims who can help you navigate through bureaucracies.
The Federal Trade Commission is the watchdog for identity theft and can be contacted at 877-382-4357. The website is www.FTC.gov. You can get information as well as file a complaint here. It also has a standardized “Affidavit of Identity Theft” for use if a police report isn’t available for whatever reason.
Contact your local law enforcement agency to file a crime report. Be sure to keep the case number for future reference and updating of the report.
Use certified mail to contact the three major credit bureaus. The Identity Theft Resource Center has sample letters. The addresses are: Equifax Information Services, LLC, Office of Consumer Affairs, P.O. Box 105139, Atlanta, GA 90348 www.equifax.com; Trans-Union, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834, www.transunion.com; Experian, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013, www.experian.com.
Contact the IRS at 2384 Professional Parkway, Santa Maria, 805-352-0355.
Contact your representatives. State Sen. Sam Blakeslee, 549-3784; Rep. Lois Capps, 546-8348; Sen. Dianne Feinstein, 559-485-7430; and Sen. Barbara Boxer, 559-497-5109. Ask them to carry legislation to safeguard basic personal identifying information.
Finally, identity theft insurance is available through some insurance and homeowner policies. Such policies may give you access to specialized attorneys who can help clear difficult or criminal cases.
So now you know the rest of the story ... except for one thing: As a cost-saving measure, the Social Security Administration is considering online access for our Social Security statements rather than mailing them each year.
File that one under I for ironic.
Bill Morem can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 781-7852.