I-Team 10: Social Security mix-up

Posted at: 08/20/2013 5:51 PM
Updated at: 08/20/2013 6:17 PM
By: Berkeley Brean

I-Team 10 has a warning of how important it is to protect your identity. The problem happens to millions of Americans.

In this case, the woman didn't do anything wrong. It was the federal government that gave her social security number away and since then, it's been a nightmare.  

Her name is Jennifer Lavigne and her nightmare started when she was 10-years-old. That's when the Social Security Administration mistakenly gave her social security number to a woman in Florida with the exact same name. To this day, the Rochester Jennifer is getting hounded for debts racked up by Florida Jennifer.

Jennifer Lavigne said, “I did not like to open the mail because I'd get summons for, you owe this amount and we need to get it by this date.”

The problems started when Jennifer Lavigne got to college. Suddenly, her student loan got canceled and her credit was so bad she couldn't get a new one. She couldn't get a credit card or a car.

Lavigne said, “I was scared that I'd never be able to do anything like own a house, nothing. I was scared. I was just stuck with my parents. I love my parents, but, just no independence at all.”

The government sent Rochester Jennifer a letter confirming the number is hers. The Social Security Administration contacted Florida Jennifer, gave her a new number and told her to stop using Rochester Jennifer's number. But that's all they could do, they don't have any law enforcement authority.

I-Team 10's Berkeley Brean said, “So she knew at some point that she had your number.”
Lavigne said, “Yes, she did.”
Brean said, “Did she stop using the number?”
Lavigne said, “No.”

Rochester Jennifer says the woman in Florida used her number to sign up for cable with AT&T and was late on the bill. She filed her taxes with the number. The IRS bill for nearly $2,000 came to Rochester Jennifer's address. To this day, Rochester Jennifer says she is hounded by Barclay's Bank for credit card debt that she says Florida Jennifer caused.

This is happening more than you might think. A study commissioned by the government two years ago shows more than 40 million social security numbers are associated with multiple people." The problem is "likely due to simple data entry errors as opposed to deliberate falsification." That's what happened with Rochester Jennifer, but that one mistake a decade ago has just about ruined her independence.

Lavigne said, “Her having a new number just let her do what she needed to do and I got stuck with all of her debt.”

So what's the first thing you should do to make sure this doesn't happen to you? First, do a yearly credit check. That should raise red flags if they exist. If you find that someone is using your social security number, call the Social Security Administration. But also contact the Federal Trade Commission. They have some law enforcement power.

Social Security Administration
(800) 772-1213

Federal Trade Commission
(202) 326-2222