Imagine getting mugged in LA and having your social security card stolen. It might not seem so far fetched that its number would be used to graft an identity onto an illegal alien. But what might be a surprise, is if years later, the guy’s still walking around with your name and you go to the car lot, they run a credit check, and not only does the guy have several cards in your name, he has way better credit than you do!
That’s exactly what happened to Elixeo, back in the day, before anyone took identity theft seriously. Thanks to a little creative people engineering, though, he was able to send that bandito packing. Find out how, after the jump…
“A few years back, long before identify theft was so prevalent I was mugged in Los Angeles. It was a pretty traumatic experience. I had been out at my favorite club and rather than drive home I decided to take a bus. While I was waiting for the bus a car stopped and offered me a ride. It was a stupid thing to do but heck I was drunk so I decided sure why not. As soon as I got in they pulled a knife on me and told me to stay calm. They drove me to an alley, told me to empty my pockets and hand over my suit jacket and then lie flat on my stomach on the pavement. I did as I was told and when one of the guys caught me trying to get a look at their license plate he charged me with the knife and I took off running. As I said it was pretty traumatic but a friend talked me into going back to the scene of the crime to see if we could find anything. I was resistant but agreed. I was shocked to find my suit jacket and my wallet with all my credit cards and driver license still in it! All that was missing was my money or at least that was all I thought was missing. It wasn’t until months later I discovered the seriousness of what it was they got away with. I had filed my income tax and received a letter from the IRS stating that I could not file two tax statements and that if my intention was to file an amendment I would have to complete different forms. Still clueless to what was going on I called the IRS. The woman I spoke to researched the situation and advised me that they had received my and my wife Guadalupe Flores’ statement in February. I informed the young woman that I was not married and that I had not in fact filed the tax statement. As I was explaining that my statement was the valid statement it occurred to me that the item that was missing from my wallet other than my money was my social security card. Back in those days I think it was fairly common for someone to carry their Social Security number in their wallet.
I explained to the lady what I believed had transpired and she stated that she would make a note of it and move the bogus tax record out of my history and process my form. I asked her if she could provide the address from the bogus tax form so I could report the person to the police and she explained that it was confidential information. I was incredulous. If the record was supposedly mine why couldn’t I have the information. She explained that she now knew it was not my information and therefore she could not divulge it. I then asked if they planned to pursue the person and report the incident to the police. She explained that they did not have a procedure to do such a thing and that if I wanted to report it to the police I was welcome to.
So I called the police and explained the situation and they explained that without information on who and where the person was they couldn’t do anything about it. The officer I spoke to at the time agreed that stealing something was illegal but he wasn’t sure how to pursue the use of someone else’s social security number. I was flummoxed.
I contacted the IRS again and asked if I could have my SS# changed. The woman I spoke to was sympathetic but she confided that I was just asking for trouble. She explained that she had seen situations where for various reasons individuals changed their SS# and it was nearly impossible to sort things out when it came time for them to claim social security benefits. Although the funds from the old SS# were supposed to be transferred to the new one it never went as it was supposed to so it was her recommendation that I just leave things as they are.
Now here is the real twister to the story. The guy using my social security number was a model citizen (or model illegal citizen). I mean the guy filed his taxes every year and he usually beat me to it. Oh yes, by the way, each year I would file my taxes and each year I would have to go through the entire thing all over again. This went on for four or five years. As I said identity theft was not all that common at the time so no one was willing or able to help me and believe me, each year at tax time I would try all over again (the whole thing started around 1984).
It finally got resolved in a very unusual manner. I was purchasing a car and the dealership was running a credit check on me. I hung out in the parking lot looking at cars while he did his thing and in a relatively short period of time he came rushing out exclaiming what an excellent credit rating I had and how it was one of the best he had seen. Needless to say I was flattered and then he said “the real clincher is that you have worked at Such and Such Hardware store for the last 8 or ten years” or something like that. He was holding the printout in his hand and I quickly reached for the paper as I asked if I could look at it. I must have had an odd look on my face because he suddenly got suspicious and snatched the print out away. “Why? What’s wrong?” he asked. Nothing really, I just want to see it I explained. He wasn’t entirely buying it and he said something about how he wasn’t supposed to let me see it but he grudgingly obliged. I looked at the sheet and was floored to see that in addition to Mr. Flores filing taxes in my name he also had a number of credit cards with exceptionally high limits and excellent payment history. This guy actually had better credit than I did! I saw that he worked at a Hardware store in Los Angeles ( I had since moved to Santa Barbara). I took my new car home and although I was excited about the car I was even more excited about finally tracking this guy down! I briefly toyed with the idea of charging a few things on some of the cards he was managing and see if he would pay. It occurred to me that he was such a model citizen that he would probably report me and I would end up in jail.
When I got home I called the Hardware store and asked if Elixeo Flores was there. They said yes and asked if I wanted to talk to him. I said no, thanked the person and hung up. I then called the police with the information. I won’t go into the detail of that conversation but essentially what they said was that they couldn’t help me.
So after thinking about it for awhile I called the Hardware store and asked to talk to the owner. I explained to the gentleman that the person in their employment was not in fact Elixeo Flores but someone else using my social security number. I explained that he must be a valuable employee since he worked for them so long and that it was in everyone’s best interest for him to cease using the social security number and not pass it on to anyone else or I would see to it that he was put in prison for tax fraud and eventually deported. The owner assured me that all would be taken care of and to my good fortune he was right.
The following year I was able to file my taxes without incident and a credit review confirmed that all of the other credit cards had been terminated. As awful as the experience was I can’t imagine how much worse it could have been if the person using my card had not been as conscientious as he was.