All Ryan Allen wanted was a Chevrolet Cavalier.
Instead, a computer lent him a brand new identity as one of the alleged masterminds of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
On April 10, when Van Chevrolet in Kansas City checked his credit, Allen’s Social Security number came up as belonging to Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, described by federal authorities as a senior al-Qaida operative suspected of helping to coordinate the Sept. 11 attacks.
Al-Shibh is on a list kept by the U.S. Treasury that orders U.S. banks to block assets of suspected terrorist financiers and enforces sanctions against some countries and suspected drug overlords.
The dealership called police, who called the FBI, which said the matter did not have a high priority because al-Shibh was arrested two years ago in Pakistan, Allen said.
Nevertheless, the dealership refused to sell to Allen. A manager at the dealership declined to comment Wednesday.
Allen has contacted the U.S. Treasury, the Social Security office, his credit union and lawyers. The only thing he knows for sure is that no one has used his Social Security number to open new accounts in his name.
He says he has received no clear explanation of how his number could be connected to al-Shibh. And he said Treasury officials could not assure him the number wasn’t used in other ways or that the problem would not recur.
“At one point (the Treasury Department) told me my name might have come up because the consonants are the same as this other guy,” Allen said. “Come on, Little Bo Peep is closer to his name than mine.”
John Garlinger, a spokesman for the Kansas City region of Social Security, said someone can get another person’s Social Security number in many ways and it is “virtually impossible” to determine how it happened.
But Garlinger, whose office did not handle Allen’s case, said Allen may continue to have troubles, particularly if he wants to travel overseas.
“It’s unfortunate that he may spend hours and hours and hours trying to recover from this,” Garlinger said.