Target: Your Insurance Card continued...
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 daughter's number.'"
Weed called the attorney general's office, filed a police report, and learned to her astonishment that at least 10 people (or someone with 10 different aliases) were using Grace's number — some since 2002, the year after her birth.
Knowing that there were 10 imposters operating in a state with only one major metropolitan center, Weed wasn't surprised when she got a call from the billing department at the eye, ear, nose, and throat specialists where Grace had been a patient. At their Park City office, they had turned away a man who had given Grace's SSN as identification. "I thanked the receptionist and said, 'Please call the police and the attorney general.'"
After the Weeds reported the Social Security theft, there was little else to be done about the problem. The SSA refused to issue Grace another number. (According to an agency spokesperson, a new number may be issued if a victim "continues to be disadvantaged by using the original number." Because she was still a child, Grace hadn't faced any problems and thus presumably could not be given a new number.) A spokesman for Experian, one of the three national credit-reporting companies, insists that Grace and the imposters will remain separate in their computer files. If that were the case, she would have no trouble getting student loans down the line.