Terry Jeffrey

He would need to have been the hardest working boy in America, for -- according to documents that employers filed with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA) -- his efforts were not merely Herculean, they were miraculous.

He was born in September 1991, and by the time he was 7 -- according to W-2 reports bearing his Social Security Number (SSN) -- he had taken multiple jobs. From 1998 to 2001, employers filed more than 3,900 W-2s using his SSN.

By 2002, when he was 12, as measured by W-2 reports, the boy was holding down 919 jobs in 42 states.

But, as you might have already guessed, this boy was not really America's most prodigious worker. He was one of America's most prodigious victims of SSN misuse. Other people were using his SSN to work in the United States.

The basic facts of his story were published in a September 2005 audit report by SSA's inspector general. (That report, by the way, did not indicate whether the child was male or female. As a rhetorical convenience, I refer to him here as a male.)

This child's story is extraordinary, but not singular. The inspector general discovered that in tax year 2002, there were 11 SSNs that were used more than 400 times.

In fact, past SSA inspector general reports have discovered that certain employers, year after year, file massive numbers of W-2s that bear fraudulent SSNs or valid SSNs that don't belong to the employee using it. These W-2s go into what SSA calls the Earnings Suspense File (ESF), where SSA deposits what it calls "no-match" W-2s.

About 9 million of these are filed per year, and SSA Inspector General Patrick O'Carroll told Congress last year "the chief cause" of them "is unauthorized work by non-citizens."

Now, meet one of the great absurdities of U.S. law: If SSA were to discover that someone was misusing your SSN like they misused the SSN of the boy whose number showed up on 3,900 W-2s over four years, SSA could not tell you about it. "Congress has not provided authorization to disclose this information in the situation you described," SSA spokesman Mark Lassiter told me. Nor would SSA refer the case to a law enforcement agency. "This tax return information is also generally restricted from disclosure to law enforcement agencies by Section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code," said Lassiter.

SSA, however, would try to contact the employee who used your SSN and, most likely, the employer who filed the W-2 on his behalf.


Terry Jeffrey

Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor-in-chief of CNSNews

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