The Identity Theft You Haven't Heard of...Yet
Target: Your Social Security Number continued...
For example, the SSA never told one victim in Utah that her number had been
stolen by an illegal immigrant named Araceli M. Lagunes. If Lagunes's victim
had ordered a credit report, would she have discovered that an ID thief used
her number to get a mortgage (and refinance it at least once)? Not necessarily.
Because Lagunes was using her own name, not her victim's, Lagunes's credit
history went into a subfile, completely separate from the victim's (though
linked by their shared number). However, Lagunes's credit activity could be
seen by any merchant or employer who ran a check on the card. Worse still,
Lagunes's bill-paying habits, whatever they were, could have affected the
rightful owner's credit score. (Lagunes has pleaded guilty.)
"This is a kettle that's about to boil over," says Utah Assistant
Attorney General Richard Hamp. "The federal government won't lift the lid
off." Hamp, one of the few attorneys general devoted to uncovering and
publicizing this type of case, discovered that 132,000 SSNs were being used by
more than one person in Utah alone in 2000.
In Houston, a city that ranks fourth in reported cases of identity theft per
capita, Brewer is now pursuing the ID mills that brazenly sell fake cards,
arguing that they promote other kinds of illegal activity. "The people who
use these numbers are officially not on the grid," he says. "That has
implications for safety and terrorism."
The real problem is that only a tiny fraction of SSN victims are even aware
of the theft. If the imposter regularly pays his or her bills on time, the
crime is uncovered only by the better credit monitoring services. In other
cases, the fraud is exposed by sheer chance, as in the case of Grace Weed.
Grace was just 5 years old when her parents learned her SSN had been stolen.
As she entered kindergarten last year in Magna, UT, her father switched jobs.
Since his new health insurance wouldn't kick in for a few months, he and his
wife, Lynette, enrolled Grace and her older brother in a state-run insurance
program for children. Not long afterward, Lynette Weed received a call from an
insurance administrator, who said Grace's SSN showed income earnings, which
would disqualify the girl for aid. "She implied that if I was using Grace's
number, I'd better stop," says Weed, who owns a beauty salon. (Some parents
fraudulently use their children's numbers when their own credit record is poor.
Illegal immigrants whose children are born in the United States have also been
known to use their kids' numbers.) "She could tell by my surprise that I
wasn't doing anything wrong. Then she said, 'Someone must have stolen your