Identity theft has been termed the crime of the 21st century, and there's every indication that the problem is going to get worse until the U.S. government reforms its policy on Social Security tax payments made by illegal immigrants who are using other people's Social Security numbers. In fact, the average victim of immigrant-based identity theft suffers from their Social Security number being shared approximately 30 times.
In an eye-opening article entitled The Secret List of ID Theft Victims (published by MSNBC on 29 January 2005), technology correspondent Bob Sullivan relates the stories of just a few of the countless identity theft victims who have had their financial, credit, and employment records permanently damaged by undocumented workers. These immigrant have chosen to pursue employment in the U.S., even if it means utilizing shared Social Security numbers and paying Social Security taxes for benefits that they will likely never receive.
What is perhaps most shocking of all is that no U.S. government agency — including the Social Security Administration and the IRS — nor any credit bureau or employer, notifies the American citizen whose Social Security number is being abused. As a result, identity theft victims can remain ignorant of the growing problem for more than 10 years, until they are denied employment because someone else has already used their number, or hounded by collection agencies to pay back loans taken out by identity thieves, or charged penalties on top of alleged unpaid taxes. None of the groups involved are required by law to notify the rightful owner of the Social Security number stolen. When asked as to why they failed to notify the victim, each group offered their own excuse, none of which help the increasing number of victims, whose lives can be ruined by powerful agencies and corporations more interested in collecting revenues than assisting victims.
This enormous and growing problem is suggested to be the result of several factors: In 1986, U.S. federal government labor laws began requiring workers to produce a Social Security card, which consequently encouraged a black market in phony cards using stolen or shared numbers. The IRS and Social Security Administration collect extra taxes from illegal workers; the total is now over a quarter billion dollars. Credit lenders can write more loans and generate more credit cards. Corporations benefit from illegal yet cheap workers.
But perhaps the underlying cause is the insistence of government agencies (at all levels), employers, financial institutions, and even video stores to use people's Social Security numbers as a universal identification number — even though that was (supposedly) never its intended purpose, nor is it even allowed by law. The integrity of identity theft victims' records is apparently considered to be far less important than the convenience of additional taxes and inexpensive labor.