Case Study: Reputation Ruined
Josh Becker nearly lost a job when a background check turned up criminal activity on his Social Security number.
Friday, October 01, 2010
Unlike most of his college buddies, Josh Becker* wouldn’t spend his summer flipping burgers or sweating it out on some construction site. He was about to land a plum first job selling electronics—one that could open countless doors after graduation.
But when a routine background check turned up “criminal activity” on his Social Security number, Becker was dumbfounded.
And suddenly, his sure thing didn’t seem so sure anymore.
Eventually, Becker learned an undocumented immigrant had used his Social Security number to work in the United States—a felony. The identity thief had paid income taxes in 2005, 2006, and 2007, and even requested a refund using Becker’s number.
In a quirk of federal privacy laws, the IRS and Social Security Administration are barred from sharing Social Security number discrepancies with immigration or law enforcement agencies, or from telling the rightful owner of a Social Security number that someone else is using it. The New York Times reports that each year, the Social Security Administration receives 8 million to 9 million earnings reports from the IRS filed under names that don’t match the Social Security numbers.
For people like Becker, the problem comes to light only when they apply for a job or loan and get turned down.
How Becker reclaimed his good name
Desperate to hang on to the job, Becker called the service that provided his background check. No luck. They wouldn’t give him information about the criminal activity.
Next, he asked his dad for help. His father turned to their insurance company, which put him in touch with Identity Theft 911.
Fraud specialist Maria Valenzuela pounced on the case. She persevered with the background-check service, reminding them of Becker’s legal right to see the report since it was impacting his ability to get a job. In minutes, Valenzuela and Becker discovered that two people—himself and someone named Gloria Cortez*—were using his Social Security number. Armed with that information, Becker called the police and the Social Security Administration.
Meanwhile, Valenzuela kicked Identity Theft 911’s efforts into high gear. “I called the electronics company and explained that Josh was no criminal; he was a victim of identity theft. And, thankfully, they kept the job offer open,” she said.
Next, Valenzuela instructed the IRS to put a fraud marker on Becker’s file. His next three tax returns will be manually audited to check for signs of fraud rather than going through the automated system.
Then, Valenzuela asked the two major credit bureaus with which Becker had a file to place a seven-year fraud alert on his accounts. That means creditors must take extra steps to verify Becker’s identity before they open a bank or credit account for him.
Additional investigation confirmed that Cortez was only interested in using Becker’s identity to gain employment. Though the incident still leaves him uneasy, Becker is enjoying his new job and looking forward to the opportunities that lie ahead, knowing he can count on continued support from Valenzuela and Identity Theft 911.
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