By Bob Sullivan Technology correspondent
msnbc.com
updated 12/12/2006 1:19:19 PM ET 2006-12-12T18:19:19

If an undocumented worker is using your Social Security Number to obtain employment, it's likely you'll never find out.

The federal government requires every worker to supply a Social Security number before obtaining employment. Identity thieves using someone else's personal information to satisfy those requirements may or may not use their victim's name along with their Social Security number. 

The immigrant imposter generally has better luck using the stolen number and a different name, a form of fraud called SSN-only identity theft. That makes the crime virtually invisible to the victim by shutting down the normal channels for discovering an identity theft, such as inspecting a credit report or paying for an identity theft detection program offered by credit monitoring services, banks and other financial firms.

The Social Security Administrationdoes not tell victims when a third party uses their Social Security number to report income. The tax payments go into a catch-all called the earnings suspense file. Such earnings are not credited to the rightful holder of the Social Security number,  and they are not reported in annual statements to taxpayers.

The Internal Revenue Service does not inform citizens if someone else is paying taxes using their SSN. 

SSN-only fraud does not show up on a credit report. If the immigrant were to take out a credit card or a loan using the victim's SSN, as often happens, the credit bureaus create a separate file for that name and SSN.  It's sometimes called a subfile. Consumers are not entitled to see these subfiles. 

Lendersdon't tell consumers when there is more than one person using the same SSN to obtain loans, even when there's an obvious conflict in their system. Earlier this year, San Diego resident Margaret Harrison received a debit card from Bank of America with her name and her imposter's picture on it.

So as long as the imposter does not run up unpaid debts, it's likely the victim will never learn about the shared Social Security Number.

There are some exceptions.

There have been several cases of the Internal Revenue Service hunting down victims when the imposter fails to pay taxes.

And some victims find out in random ways. Harrison first learned there were problems with her Social Security number when she applied for unemployment benefits and was initially denied because her records showed she was working

Chicago area resident Linda Trevino found out when she applied for a job at a local Target and was told she already worked there. Later research found 37 different illegal immigrants had used her Social Security number to get a job.

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