Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

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Answering Writers’ Questions: SSNs and Identity Theft

Posted by Writing PIs on September 29, 2009

private investigator

Today we’re posting some questions (and our answers) from writers about Social Security Numbers (SSNs) and identity theft.

Writer’s Question:  I never understood how someone could “steal” a social security number by going thru the registry of deceased.  Wouldn’t that number pop up somehow in the IRS database as belonging to someone who passed away if it was used as ID for employment payroll?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’ Answer: Yes, that stolen SSN will pop up in the IRS system at some point (we’re not sure how the Treasury Department process works, or how long it’d take, but we can confidentally say it’d pop up at some point). We just had an interesting case where a small business owner hired us to investigate someone who had recently worked for her, and we discovered the SSN the employee had used wasn’t even a real SSN! It had never been issued by the Social Security Administration, and it’s known to have been used in movies and advertisements (so this employee probably stole it from a movie or ad). The business owner is now nervous about filing her taxes, although truth be told, the worst that will happen is that her tax deposits will not be allowed as deductions.

We mentioned to the business owner she should have background checks run on all prospective employees to verify such things as valid SSNs, if the SSN belongs to the person applying for the job, past work history, etc.  In her particular case, she’s been hiring people with false claims of legal work status, which can get her into a lot of trouble with ICE (which used to be INS).

Writer’s Question: And wouldn’t it seem odd if that number suddenly became active for someone with a different name? Or doesn’t the computer link SSNs to names?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’ Answer: From a practical perspective, SSN verification is not done until someone presents an identity with a mismatched SSN to law enforcement authorities.

Writer’s Question: Also, what if someone stole one of these numbers at say age 40 (I know they usually look for someone who died at a similar age). But what if that deceased person never worked? Now all of a sudden, a SSN becomes active at age 40. Wouldn’t that arouse suspicion?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’ Answer: See our answer re: law enforcement (above). Truth is that people falsely use SSNs to access jobs or identities for short-term purposes and, under no circumstance, do they intend to pay into the SSN trust fund or receive payments. The latter two events are gateways for concern at a government level because someone can abuse an SSN for purposes of the Treasury Department and not be noticed.

What the government has done has created the I-9 form, which states that this person is allowed to work in the U.S., which covers the employer’s [bottom].  If a pattern of knowing deception by the employer can be shown (for example, an employer who continuously refuses to verify employees’ immigration and work status), and the employer is caught (for example, in a routine/surprise government inspection or even by a snitch such as a disgruntled former employee who reports this to law enforcement), then ICE will authorize prosecution of the employer for both criminal and civil penalties.

Btw, the immigration policies of the U.S. government are pretty well beyond the purview of private investigators, although we can suggest some resources if you have further questions or want to delve further into stolen IDs/SSNs, etc. — for example, you might contact public information officers at ICE, FBI, ATFE (ATFE for Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives), or even Treasury.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

2 Responses to “Answering Writers’ Questions: SSNs and Identity Theft”

  1. Very interesting. They say identity theft if rampant in the country and I guess that includes a SSN…what happens if a person with no work history( or litte) has his number stolen and the person works under it long enough to make him eligible for benefits? The person who’s number was stolen now is able to draw on his account althogh he didn’t really work.


    • writingpis said

      The rule that’s applied in this situation is called the “clean hands doctrine.” What it means is that a person coming to the court who has done something wrong, such as misappropriated an identity, cannot claim the benefit of their wrongdoing (because their hands are dirty).

      So the individual who’s entitled to the money is the person whose social security number has been misappropriated.

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