Target: Your Social Security Number continued...
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.
Experts say that this forecast is far too sunny. If someone is using your SSN, the system is supposed to register at least one other shared piece of data — a name, address, or birth date — before the thief's information shows up on your credit report. "The problem is that credit-bureau merging software makes mistakes, and even if you share just the SSN with another person, that could be enough to trash your credit," explains Edward Jamison, a California attorney who specializes in credit matters. "It's not a perfect system."
The Weeds expect a lifelong battle with Grace's number. But there has been progress. Lynette Weed said that two men who have used Grace's number are currently being investigated; if prosecuted, they could face a fine and possible prison time. "If there are court hearings, I plan to attend with Grace," she says. "I want to show these men that there was a real person attached to that number, a little girl who's going to have to clean up their mess later on."
How to Detect and Prevent ID Theft
The first step is simple: Get a free annual review of your family's credit reports. Here, seven other helpful tips
Medical ID Fraud
- Protect your insurance card as carefully as your credit cards. If it gets
lost or stolen, alert your insurance company immediately and request a new
- Be selective about where you get care. Avoid clinics that advertise free
exams; they may just want to copy your health insurance information.
- Carefully read over the explanation-of-benefits notices that your insurance company provides. Make sure you recognize the doctors' names and the dates of treatment — an unfamiliar provider is a big warning sign. If you rarely see your doctors, call your insurance carrier and ask for an annual summary of all procedures that were paid in your name.