Sunday, December 3, 2017

Identity Theft Sympathy

Recently, police arrested man in Hillsborough County, alleging that he "used the stolen social security number of a child to get a job and collect $21,000 in workers compensation." The accused is 44 years old and worked for about 5 years at a local roofing company, "according to arrest documents," although the business would not confirm the employment.

A police official interviewed by ABC news encouraged parents to be vigilant in safeguarding children's personal information. He says that police "see cases of identify theft involving children on a fairly regular basis, although statistics were not immediately available." The police warn that parents and children may not learn of such theft and appropriation for years. Then, when the "child goes to apply for their first credit card or loan," the theft of her/his identity becomes apparent.

According to the Social Security Administration, a social security number (SSN) can be obtained by "thieves" in a variety of ways:
Stealing wallets, purses, and your mail (bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, new checks, and tax information); 
Stealing personal information you provide to an unsecured site online, from business or personnel records at work, and personal information in your home; 
Rummaging through your trash, the trash of businesses, and public trash dumps for personal data;
Posing by phone or email as someone who legitimately needs information about you, such as employers or landlords; or 
Buying personal information from “inside” sources. For example, an identity thief may pay a store employee for information about you that appears on an application for goods, services, or credit.
None of these seem very likely for children, except perhaps the "rummaging through trash" example. But, the threat is said to exist. The report notes that the Federal Trade Commission has specific warnings for parents regarding detriments that are possible following the theft of a child's SSN. These are said to include "being denied certain federal benefits, receiving bills and collection notices in the mail and notices from the IRS that a tax return has already been filed with your child's SSN." It appears that people can suffer detriments when they are the victims of fraud. 

And, if someone "misuses" your personal information, including SSN, the Social Security Administration "can’t resolve these problems." There is no remedy from the Federal government agency. Recently, noted in Kansas Cannot Prosecute Identity Theft, there have been those who conclude that state criminal prosecutors likewise cannot resolve these problems. Thus, the innocent victim of the theft is left to deal with the outcomes and effects perpetrated by the thief.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides advice regarding what can be done when your identity is stolen, at identitytheft.govThe FTC recommends that you contact all the companies that have been involved by the thief, that you report the theft to the FTC, and that you obtain credit reports the thief may have affected. It recommends that you do this "right away," which may be difficult if you learn of it when your child is later applying for college, and the theft was a decade before. The FTC even recommends filing a local police report, ignoring that your state may refuse to take legal action, like Kansas.

The FTC next recommends that you close accounts, remove "bogus" charges, correct your credit report, and expend your resources to protect your credit. 

But none of these seem to focus on prosecuting the thief that stole the identity to begin with. These are all actions to repair the barnyard gate, after (perhaps long after) the livestock has escaped through it. What will or can the state do to prosecute the thief?

The Washington Times reported this year that
Most illegal immigrants who pay taxes have stolen someone else’s legal identity, and the IRS doesn’t do a very good job of letting those American citizens and legal immigrants know they’re being impersonated.
This can allegedly "cause significant burden to innocent taxpayers," but the IRS is seemingly ambivalent. 

In 2016, Forbes reported that Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Koskinen was questioned by Congress regarding the use of stolen SSN. The Commissioner "suggested that as long as the information is being used only to fraudulently obtain jobs, the IRS was OK with it." That is, the IRS has no interest in criminal activity in general, fraud generally, only in the criminal activity of tax fraud. So, if the taxes are being paid, no harm?

The Commissioner said "the IRS actually had an interest in helping the illegal immigrants" with the filing process, despite them using stolen identities. Apparently, a thief's tax payments are facilitated by this identity theft, and so the IRS' job is simplified if these individuals steal identities. Essentially, Forbes characterizes this as the "not my department response that abounds in big government." 

That leaves the rest of us to perhaps wonder "whose department is it?" People are being penalized and damaged by identity theft. They are left on their own to discover the theft and to fix the damage done to them by thieves, at their emotional and financial expense. And, there appears to be a reluctance or at least ambivalence about taking any action to hinder or stop the thieves. But, there is Criticism of Enforcing the Law

Those who criticize seem quick to find fault with the effects and implications that attach to stealing. There is sympathy for the person that steals the identity and is punished for breaking the law. People perceive outcomes that affect thieves, and lament that repercussions upon the thieves. But, there seems little attention on the thieves' victims, the people whose identity was stolen. Do those people deserve consideration? Do they deserve the protection of the law?

Should the sympathy lie with the thief or with the victims? Or, can there be sympathy for circumstances that lead people to poor decisions, and still sympathy for those they hurt? And, whose department is that?