by Tammy Hart

Recently a close friend of mine was applying for a new job when she was informed that her social security number was already in use by another individual. She notified me of the problem with a great deal of anxiety, so I began researching identity fraud in an effort to help her with her current situation.

Through this research I found that The Federal Trade Commission estimates that one in every 25 Americans is a victim of identity theft each year and most victims do not discover their identity has been stolen until at least 6 months after the fact.

She was fortunate (if you can call it that) that the person using her Social Security Number was an illegal immigrant who had only used her number for employment purposes and had not adversely effected her credit. She contacted the major credit bureaus and requested that they place a “fraud alert” on her credit file. By doing this she is essentially requesting that future creditors contact her to confirm any new credit by telephone verification. She is anticipating that filing her taxes this year is going to be an obstacle, to say the least, but is trying to get as much resolved with the IRS as she can before filing her income taxes next year.

The Social Security Administration has created an online tool, along with the phone/fax verification system that was already in place, for employee verification; presently, however, the government does not require employers to verify the identity of their employees.

The Social Security Administration is very aware of the growing problem of identity theft. In 1993 the SSA started sending out “mismatch letters” to employers to notify the employer that there is a discrepancy between employee names and social security numbers. But under the current policy, only employers with more than 10 mismatches will receive a mismatch letter.

Although the Social Security Administration has the information about duplicate uses or mismatched Social Security numbers, the IRS is the organization responsible for enforcing penalties. They have been reluctant to do so up to this point, according to an MSNBC report issued in March 2006 by Bob Sullivan. Sullivan suggests that hundreds or possibly hundreds of thousands of Americans are sharing their identities with illegal immigrants and don’t even know it.

The Federal Government is being urged by members of the private sector to take strides to help victims of economic crimes by increasing awareness, making criminal justice personnel and victim advocates accountable toward victims of fraud and economic crime, passing legislation with stiffer penalties, creating training programs for justice system professionals, and encouraging victim support groups, to list a few.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, companies like Rite Aid Corp, Reed Elsevier PLC , and Qwest Communications International, Inc. have all recently started offering an interesting benefit to employees–identity-theft resolution services so that their employees don’t have to face the nightmare of investigating and correcting any identify theft issues on their own.