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Posted: 1/16/2006 8:22:28 PM EDT
ID theft a fast-growing crime
Victims deal with nightmare of correcting credit record blemishes
Simon Read
STAFF WRITER
www.insidebayarea.com/trivalleyherald/localnews/ci_3407055
DUBLIN — For Audra Schmierer, it began last January with a letter from the Internal Revenue Service claiming she owed $15,000 in back taxes on income earned in 2003.
Schmierer, 32, thought a mistake had been made. She hadnt worked since giving birth to her son in 2000. The next day, however, another letter arrived from the IRS — this one stating she owed more than $32,000 in back taxes from 2002.

And so began a long nightmare that eventually saw the IRS accusing Schmierer of owing $1 million in back taxes on income she never earned.

Schmierer was the victim of identity theft. An illegal alien in Fort Worth, Texas, had managed — through means that still remain unknown — to hijack her Social Security number and use it to obtain employment as a steelworker.

The number was circulated among other illegal immigrants, who used it to land various jobs.

The IRS had me employed with six different companies in Texas, said Schmierer. It was so overwhelming, I couldnt be frustrated — I was just completely beyond that.

Schmierer and her husband — an assistant vice president with JP Morgan — found their bank accounts frozen. A simple trip to Safeway to buy groceries, or a run to Starbucks for a cup of coffee became an ordeal.

We didnt have access to our own money, she said. We had to ask our parents for loans just so we could buy the necessities.

Schmierer said the experience was akin to being trapped in a prison cell.

We went to Alcatraz on a family trip, she said. They put you in a cell so you can see what it feels like ... we were in there, and my husband started laughing. He said, This is what its like. And its true, you feel like youre imprisoned.

Federal authorities warned her not to leave the country, she said. Accompanying her husband on a trip to Mexico, she found herself detained by the U.S. Department of Customs for nearly four hours upon her return to the states.

She spent 40 hours a week on the phone, being bounced between the IRS and the Social Security Administration, she said.

I couldnt prove who I was

The words that would come out of my mouth, she said. It was an ordeal just trying to get a hold of someone. I eventually got direct numbers to all the people I needed to talk to. I was calling the same people three or four times a day.

Multiple 12-hour days were spent at the Social Security office in Hayward, she said.

Id go there to try and sort things out, she said. But I couldnt get anything done because I couldnt prove I was who I said I was.

She spent hours on the Internet, sending e-mails and posting messages on blogs, desperate to find anyone who might be able to help. In the end, however, it was Schmierers own perseverance that yielded results.

Last week — after nearly a year — the IRS sent her Schmierer letter saying she did not owe them back taxes. Her Social Security number, however, is still being used illegally.

After all I went through, Id like something more than a letter, she said. Because of the Social Security issue, Im not able to buy a house. Applying for a job would also cause problems.

Fastest growing crime

According to the states Office of Privacy Protection — part of the Department of Consumer Affairs, — identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the country.

Statistics collected by the Federal Trade Commission estimate one in 20 adults — roughly 12 million Americans — have fallen victim to the crime.

Livermore Police Detective Tod Lohmeyer has been investigating identity theft for the past three years. In a city where most people cite traffic as their primary concern, Lohmeyer said identity theft is given little thought.

When the crime is ID theft, its not as personal, he said. Theres no body with a chalk outline around it. When your car or home is broken into, theres a very personal element to it.

Lohmeyer said people should give more thought to protecting themselves, adding that the impact of identity theft can be felt long after the event.

The repercussions

can last years, he said. A couple of years after the event, you can still have collection agencies calling you for money.
Investigating the hijacking of ones credit card and bank accounts is a challenging task of connecting the dots, he said.

Youre going from one place to the next trying to piece the thing together, Lohmeyer said. The financial victim of the crime is going to be the bank, credit company or merchant.

Businesses not always helpful

Unlike other crime victims, victims of identity theft — the companies who end up burdened with the costs of fraudulent purchases — are not always cooperative with investigators.

If you were a personal victim, you would give everything to the police to help them out, Lohmeyer said. But when youre dealing with a bank, or Target, or Home Depot, you have to contact them continuously to try and get information.

Repeated calls are sometimes necessary before businesses turn over surveillance tapes, credit slips, receipts — anything that might help police capture the perpetrator, Lohmeyer said.

In the meantime, other cases are coming in, he said. Before you know, you have 30 open cases in your files.

Pleasanton Police Detective Daly Harnish voiced similar frustrations.

The biggest challenge is getting copies of applications from financial agencies; paperwork that might provide a lead, Harnish said. A lot of that paperwork is considered private, so we have to get court orders to get those documents. Basically, youre making more paperwork to get paperwork.

Harnish said banks and credit agencies can take up to 90 days to respond to court orders. All the while, the identity thieve is running around wreaking more havoc.

Leaving a false trail

Some thieves employ particularly devious methods to thwart investigators.

We sometimes find suspects taking a stolen check number and attaching it to another persons name, Harnish said. The account number belongs to Victim A and the name belongs to Victim B, so you end up chasing victims instead of the suspect.

Beth Givens is director of the Privacy Rights Clearing House, a San Diego-based organization that helps members of the public protect their privacy.

Were sort of a Dear Abby for issues pertaining to privacy, Givens said. We were actually one of the first organizations in the country to work with victims of identity theft.

The small organization — its staff numbers less than four — does its best to solve identity theft problems for people, or refer them to other organizations that might be able to help.

Givens said there has been a rise in identity theft over the years. From the Internet to junk mail, thieves can use almost anything to obtain an identity.

Use a shredder

Harnish said one simple way to protect yourself from thieves stealing your personal information is to shred everything.

(Identity theft) is on the rise in Pleasanton, just like property crime, he said. This is an affluent area — theres a lot of money here. You want to limit the amount of information you put out.

Harnish said to shred credit card applications and old bills, anything that contains personal information.

We still have a lot of residents who put outgoing bills in their mailbox, he said. That raised red flag on your mailbox is a signal to thieves. You should drop everything off at the post office.

Credit reports should be checked often, Harnish said.

Its all just common sense, he said. Limit what you give out and reduce the chance of becoming a victim.
Link Posted: 1/16/2006 8:24:15 PM EDT
"George Bush made me keep my SS card in my purse and not shread my documents before throwing them in the trash!"
Link Posted: 1/16/2006 8:25:47 PM EDT

Originally Posted By TheCynic:
"George Bush made me keep my SS card in my purse and not shread my documents before throwing them in the trash!"



Sounds actionable
Link Posted: 1/16/2006 8:27:34 PM EDT

Originally Posted By 22bad:

Originally Posted By TheCynic:
"George Bush made me keep my SS card in my purse and not shread my documents before throwing them in the trash!"


Sounds actionable


"George Bush doesn't care about stupid people!"
Link Posted: 1/16/2006 8:28:46 PM EDT

Originally Posted By TheCynic:

Originally Posted By 22bad:

Originally Posted By TheCynic:
"George Bush made me keep my SS card in my purse and not shread my documents before throwing them in the trash!"


Sounds actionable


"George Bush doesn't care about stupid people!"



Compassion has its limits
Link Posted: 1/16/2006 8:30:15 PM EDT

Schmierer was the victim of identity theft. An illegal alien in Fort Worth, Texas, had managed — through means that still remain unknown — to hijack her Social Security number and use it to obtain employment as a steelworker.

The number was circulated among other illegal immigrants, who used it to land various jobs.

The IRS had me employed with six different companies in Texas, said Schmierer. It was so overwhelming, I couldnt be frustrated — I was just completely beyond that.

Schmierer and her husband — an assistant vice president with JP Morgan — found their bank accounts frozen. A simple trip to Safeway to buy groceries, or a run to Starbucks for a cup of coffee became an ordeal.



This should happen to all the illegal alien supporters
Link Posted: 1/16/2006 8:32:53 PM EDT
So when are we going to get tought on crime?

If you are caught red handed using someone else sidentity, you should be shot dead in the street and hung to a lamp post with a sign reading:

"This is what happens when you steal someones idenity"

Link Posted: 1/16/2006 8:34:48 PM EDT
"Tweakers and illegal aliens...stealing the identities working Americans wont steal."

"Hard working thieves searching for a better way to commit identity theft"
Link Posted: 1/16/2006 8:36:44 PM EDT
There should be an automated system for employers to verify that a SSN is both valid, and issued to the person claiming the number. If the Credit card companies can do it world wide with billions of credit cards, then the Social Security Administrationn and IRS can do it with SSN's.
Link Posted: 1/16/2006 8:44:21 PM EDT

Originally Posted By TheCynic:
"George Bush made me keep my SS card in my purse and not shread my documents before throwing them in the trash!"



FDR enacted a form of socialism and branded us like cattle.
Link Posted: 1/16/2006 8:48:37 PM EDT

Originally Posted By AR15fan:
There should be an automated system for employers to verify that a SSN is both valid, and issued to the person claiming the number. If the Credit card companies can do it world wide with billions of credit cards, then the Social Security Administrationn and IRS can do it with SSN's.



I would be willing to bet that there already is one
Link Posted: 1/16/2006 8:52:24 PM EDT
[Last Edit: 1/16/2006 8:52:48 PM EDT by TheCynic]

Originally Posted By AR15fan:
There should be an automated system for employers to verify that a SSN is both valid, and issued to the person claiming the number.


An "InstaCheck" system, like the ATF does with FFL IDs, will (supposedly) be part of the immigration legislation slated for debate next year aimed at allowing/forcing employers to verify SSNs.
Link Posted: 1/16/2006 8:54:33 PM EDT

Originally Posted By AR15fan:
There should be an automated system for employers to verify that a SSN is both valid, and issued to the person claiming the number. If the Credit card companies can do it world wide with billions of credit cards, then the Social Security Administrationn and IRS can do it with SSN's.



No.

The employer should not even need a SSN.

Tax reform is the fix for this shit. Fair Tax, or something like it.

There should be no need to brand everyone in this coutry with a fucking number for people to steal and use to pretend to be them. My SSN should be between me and the taxation authority, and no one else.
Link Posted: 1/16/2006 8:57:05 PM EDT

Originally Posted By mattimeo:

Originally Posted By AR15fan:
There should be an automated system for employers to verify that a SSN is both valid, and issued to the person claiming the number. If the Credit card companies can do it world wide with billions of credit cards, then the Social Security Administrationn and IRS can do it with SSN's.



No.

The employer should not even need a SSN.

Tax reform is the fix for this shit. Fair Tax, or something like it.

There should be no need to brand everyone in this coutry with a fucking number for people to steal and use to pretend to be them. My SSN should be between me and the taxation authority, and no one else.



That ship has sooooo sailed, actually we have two numbers, drivers license and social security
Link Posted: 1/17/2006 2:19:26 PM EDT

Originally Posted By 22bad:

Originally Posted By AR15fan:
There should be an automated system for employers to verify that a SSN is both valid, and issued to the person claiming the number. If the Credit card companies can do it world wide with billions of credit cards, then the Social Security Administrationn and IRS can do it with SSN's.



I would be willing to bet that there already is one


It only verify's that its a valid number. What it needs to do is very who it belongs to. So when Pablo applys for a construction job in San Diego the response lets the employer know the number provided is for a 3yo girl in New hampshire, and Pablo doesnt get the job.
Link Posted: 1/17/2006 2:25:30 PM EDT
[Last Edit: 1/17/2006 2:27:31 PM EDT by GySgtD]
I found out in early 2000 that someone had "stolen my identity" and racked up a several thousand dollar debt. The reason I found out was because I tried to refinance a car loan. They said "No way!". I'm glad that I asked them why. Or maybe I wish that I didn't ask. Didn't exactly make me very happy...

Thought that it was all behind me, then I find out last June that it happened again. Several thousand dollars of credit card debt, all in my name.


ETA> Just got done fully reading the first post. My culprit was also an illegal alien.
Link Posted: 1/17/2006 2:29:46 PM EDT


The major problem comes from every asshat wanting to use your SSN for ID in the first place.

Your employer, your health insurance provider, your bank, ect.
Link Posted: 1/17/2006 2:30:19 PM EDT

Originally Posted By AR15fan:
There should be an automated system for employers to verify that a SSN is both valid, and issued to the person claiming the number. If the Credit card companies can do it world wide with billions of credit cards, then the Social Security Administrationn and IRS can do it with SSN's.



That would screw up the whole setup. If they really didn't want SSN fraud they'd have your photo ID on it and make at least a feeble attempt to defeat counterfieters. You know, sort of like what they do with currency.
Link Posted: 1/17/2006 2:31:56 PM EDT

Originally Posted By mattimeo:

Originally Posted By AR15fan:
There should be an automated system for employers to verify that a SSN is both valid, and issued to the person claiming the number. If the Credit card companies can do it world wide with billions of credit cards, then the Social Security Administrationn and IRS can do it with SSN's.



No.

The employer should not even need a SSN.

Tax reform is the fix for this shit. Fair Tax, or something like it.

There should be no need to brand everyone in this coutry with a fucking number for people to steal and use to pretend to be them. My SSN should be between me and the taxation authority, and no one else.




Your last sentence highlights the biggest cause of the problem - everyone one deals with wants your SS# for identification. Each file it lands in, and each pair of hands it passes through, or who have access to the file, exposes one to misappropriation. The SS# should STOP being used as identification. Yes, that's like shouting at the tide, but it's the problem.

You are correct about the tax issue, though I doubt it's going anywhere. A national sales tax, for example, would not expose your SS# for each transaction. The SS#, however, would have to go back to being a number for <gasp> Social Security pension purposes. Unless its use as an identifier in every library, motor vehicle agency, hospital, or for credit at Wal-Mart is STOPPED COMPLETELY, the problem will only grow.
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