A couple of weeks ago we received a notice that we needed to submit additional paperwork for our children’s FAFSAs (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). They wanted a data transfer from the IRS. Weird. But we tried, and the IRS notified us that our current address is not associated with my husband’s social security number—strange given that we’ve live here for five years. Cal and I swallowed and hoped it was a typo. We had an inkling where this might be going...
Five years ago Cal had his identity stolen. We didn’t know until we got a letter from the bank stating that they had frozen all our accounts. (Imagine mortgage, utility, & credit card payments bouncing.) I thought it was a mistake. It wasn’t. An illegal alien had bought Cal’s social security number. (According to the Social Security Administration criminals look through old employment records, copy the SSNs of former employees, and sell them). After buying the number, this particular alien set up a checking account with Cal’s SSN and wrote bad checks. And Cal was being held responsible. We tried to file a police report. No good. We aren’t allowed to know the criminal’s name. He has a right to privacy. (Yes, they told us this with a straight face.) Though his name was Jose Cruz (I have an interesting ability—I can read upside down and backwards, just as easily as forwards). And even though I read his address too, we couldn’t file charges because it was across state lines.
So the other day when we had the IRS glitch, I really, really hoped for a clerical error. Cal called the IRS. They wouldn’t talk over the phone. So he went to the IRS to chat—after waiting in line for three hours. It turns out that Cal’s number was stolen again. This time, however, someone was trying to get a tax refund with Cal’s number.
The IRS couldn’t discuss the faux tax return with us because Cal had to prove that he was indeed Calvin Keller who has had the SSN for 50 years as opposed to Bob the Criminal who’s had it for 6 months. Cal had to photocopy his driver’s license and passport and file an affidavit. In 30 days, when the IRS has (hopefully) processed the paperwork, then they’ll discuss the problem with us. And they’ll assign Cal a super-duper secret IRS pin number. Of course, the fact that someone in Michigan knew we’d get a tax return points to an insider job, but no one seems too concerned about that. So I’m not sure how helpful the super secret personal identification number will be...
In the meantime, our tax paperwork is frozen—and the kids’ financial aid paperwork is frozen. (A clock is ticking in the background for that. It’s our understanding that FAFSA issues must be resolved by the end of April.)
So now we have to notify our bank, all three credit report agencies, and the Federal Trade Commission. Doesn’t that sound like fun? It wouldn’t be so bad if I had any kind of assurance that the government or police were doing something to prevent this crime. But all we’ve gotten are shrugs. And as the IRS lady said, “It can happen to anyone.” And, obviously, it can happen more than once.
What about you all? Do any of you have identity theft horror stories?
Several people have recommended identity protection services. Unfortunately, these services, which we have used in the past, would not have caught either incidence of SSN abuse because though banks require you to submit an SSN, they are not obligated to verify it. And, of course, federal databases like the IRS are not available to these services. And it’s especially difficult to catch these criminals because while they are using Cal’s SSN, they aren’t using his name.
Identity theft is becoming a huge issue. The FTC has announced that they are now receiving 50,000 notices per week of identity theft. And stealing SSNs to get tax refunds is the new “hot” identity crime. These criminals file early in attempt to beat you to the tax refund. We filed in late January, and Bob the Criminal beat us, which is why the IRS documents had us living in Michigan.
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