My identity has been stolen! Well, actually it’s been reassigned. John Doe (not his real name), has been using my social security number for nearly a year but he’s probably not a genuine identity thief. Not in the strictest sense of the word. My social security number is in his employment records. It’s in his quarterly reports to the IRS; and although it seems reasonable that he would have noticed it on a paycheck stub or two, it seems he didn’t know anything about it.
It will take a while to get the digital trail straightened out. Until then, he is me….sort of; which means I have taken on his identity as well. My social security number is a part of his record. His job and his salary are a part of mine, not to mention the possible added tax burden. Unfortunately for me the money is like virtual money instead of the real thing, so I can’t spend it.
It’s all so confusing.
The Job I Didn’t Know I Had
I am a freelance writer and a jewelry maker. In this economy neither of those activities has brought in the big bucks. But there’s hope. Whatever we do, wherever we go, we leave behind a digital trail. Mine says that somehow between the writing and the crafting and the writing about crafting, I took on a job in a factory just outside of town.
That’s what a routine employment inquiry revealed. The person on the job all these months was actually John Doe not me, but try telling that to Betty, the Office Manager who did an employment inquiry on my behalf. It didn’t make sense that I would say I was self employed when I really worked in a factory; but I suppose she had to accept the information she was given.
Betty the Office Manager
I decided a simple phone call would straighten out what I thought was a simple mix up, so I called Betty. (also not a real name) It was her letter that pointed out the problem. “It says you work at XYZ Metalworks” Betty said. “We need to get salary verification from your employer.”
“But I’m self employed,” I told Betty.
“We still need to get your employment and salary verification from your employer,” she said.
“But I don’t work there!” I insisted.
“We have to get the form back, and we’ll see what they say.”
“It will say I don’t work there!” I had to take a few deep breaths and count to 3 in my head. “It’s a mistake,” I finally said. “Where on earth did you get this information?”
“We have a company we use. The information was listed under your social security number,” Betty said. The conversation went back and forth; and I had to admit she sounded pretty convincing, even to me.
Perhaps I do work there, I thought. Perhaps I’m a sleepwalker. I go to a factory in the middle of the night, work 8 hours then come home and forget everything. If that’s the case show me the money? I could certainly use the money.
Not Identity Theft Worthy
It took a moment, but then it hit me. Someone had stolen my identity. I thought about all those times I giggled at those corny ID theft commercials. They made identity theft sound like a boogie man hiding around every corner. I wasn’t laughing at all this time. It was creepy.
‘Someone is using my social security number,’ I thought to myself, ‘although I can’t imagine why.’ Identity thieves steal a person’s identity to use their credit and empty out their bank accounts. I’d run out of money…. and credit years ago. I haven’t been Identity theft worthy in a long time, so it never occurred to me to be concerned.
I found ‘my employer’ in an online directory and decided to give them a call.
Marsha – Owner XYZ Metalworks
“XYZ Metalworks,” the voice said. She sounded a bit stressed already and very tired. I started not to bother her with my identity crisis, but my need to know trumped my desire to be considerate of the lady on the phone.
“XYZ has only 5 people working here,” Marsha told me. “I’m the owner, I know every employee,” she said, “and that name (my name) doesn’t sound familiar.”
We talked about the possibility of one of her employees using my Social Security number without her knowledge. I even broke my don’t-give-out-important-information-to-strangers rule and gave her the last 4 digits of my social security number. “That doesn’t sound familiar,” she said. “But I’ll get back to you.”
John is Me and I am John
It doesn’t take long to review 5 employment files, I suppose. Marsha called back in about 10 minutes. “I figured it out. It’s not identity theft,” she said. “My brother, John, is a co owner of the business. JPG (not a real company) processes our payroll and when they entered his social security number, they input your last 4 digits by mistake.
Last 4 digits? “So that means…. That means your brother and I have identical social security numbers except for the last 4 digits.” I broke my rule again and rattled off my entire social security number.”
“Yeah….” she said. “That’s it.”
“Hmmmmm…..,” I said. “So did your brother get his card back in the, uh… late 60s? I asked.
“Yes, that sounds about right.”.
40 Years and a Lot of Numbers ago
It couldn’t have been that long ago, I decided. Then I remembered Denise, Margaret and me, all of us 16, going to the Social Security Administration after school to get our cards. You didn’t get a number just for being born back then. A Social Security card was a right of passage. For high school girls it meant you were going out to look for a Summer job.
There was no digital trail either. Everything, even most government records, were mostly manual back then. The cards were printed in sequential order and a clerk typed out the name with a manual typewriter. My two best friends and I went to the SSA on the same day. Our Social Security numbers are one digit apart.
Apparently John Doe was there that day as well….. a hundred or so numbers later. Forty years have passed and here we are again, two strangers brought together again by the numbers.
I began to contemplate the meaning of it all. (I never did believe in pure coincidence.) I have yet to figure out the deep cosmic meaning of this chance numeric encounter so many years down the road.
A Few Facts About Payroll Outsourcing
-The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a slight reduction in payroll and timekeeping jobs due to increased automation and outsourcing of timekeeping and payroll operations.
-Businesses outsource payroll for reduced costs, reliability and speed.
-Companies offer payroll processing for businesses with as few as 1 employee.
-Payroll outsourcing is a trend that will not go away.
-Payroll businesses are automated but somewhere along the line a human must input the data, which can mean human error.
-A simple data entry error can lead to hours of sorting and backtracking to straighten out a digital trail months or years later.
Check Your Check Stub
Check your check stub even if you’ve been working for the same company for decades and they’ve always given you accurate information down to the last digit. Your company might have switched to a payroll processing company or online payroll processing requiring a transfer of data.
Whatever payroll processing method your employer uses, a human has to input the data; and humans make mistakes. Take a moment to check your check stub. Make sure some human didn’t switch your social security digits around and turn you into someone else.
Bureau of Labor Statistics:http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_table_502.htm