Congratulations, You May Have Your Own SSN Pen Pal In Micronesia

If you get a call from a debt collector for a loan you never took out, and your Social Security number starts with a zero, try this excuse: “[My SSN] ended up linked to a Micronesian man who defaulted on a disaster loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration.”

What happened to AP reporter Holly Ramer is sort of the legalized equivalent to identity theft. There’s no criminal mastermind behind it, just government neglect and a bunch of passing the buck.

The problem involves three Pacific island nations, each of which has its own, independent Social Security Administration. The three — the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau — grant defense rights in the region to the U.S., and in exchange receive aid, including grants and loans after disasters.

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Some federal agencies collect locally-issued Social Security numbers from grant and loan applicants and report them to credit bureaus as if they were U.S. numbers, regardless of whether the numbers already are in use.

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture has known for years that it creates “overlapping” Social Security numbers when granting loans in the three island nations, said Donald Etes of the agency’s rural development office in Hawaii. The office that processes loans is working on a fix, but there have been no software or policy changes yet, he said.

One of the problems is that two of the three Pacific Island nations use 8-digit Social Security codes, but U.S. computer systems add a zero to the front of them—which then makes them identical to SSNs that have already been assigned to residents in New Hampshire and Maine.

Bottom line: If your U.S. number starts with 002-6, 003-9, 005-7 or 007-8, it could match a number in Micronesia. Numbers that start 006-4 could match numbers in Palau. Those that start with 004 could match numbers in the Marshall Islands.

In all, Ramer estimates about 135,000 numbers are in co-existence, but none of the major credit reporting agencies has any way of filtering for the problem. And since it’s an error and not theft, the FTC won’t get involved.

Ramer was unlucky enough to share a SSN and a bad loan from your Pacific Island doppelganger, something that she estimates has probably happened to about 200 other Americans.

“Some Social Security Numbers Duplicated” [Fox News] (Thanks to Marisa!)