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Feds vow to fix mistake that left two women named Jieun Kim with the same Social Security number

"The first thought that came to me was, 'What a relief','" said one of the women.
Jieun Kim, of Los Angeles, left, and Jieun Kim who lives in Evanston, Illinois.
Jieun Kim, of Los Angeles, left, and Jieun Kim who lives in Evanston, Illinois.Courtesy Jieun Kim

The two South Korean immigrants whose new lives in America were thrown into chaos after they were mistakenly assigned the same Social Security number are getting some relief from the federal government.

Less than a week after NBC News reported on their plight, the Social Security Administration announced that it will allow Jieun Kim of Los Angeles, 31, to keep the number that she was assigned in 2018, and give Jieun Kim, who lives in a Chicago suburb and is also 31, a brand new number.

“I am glad and relieved that the SSA has resolved the problem of having issued one Social Security number to both of us,” the L.A. Kim told NBC News on Tuesday.

The Kim who lives outside of Chicago, in Evanston, said she, too, was elated after hearing from the SSA.

“The first thought that came to me was, ‘What a relief,'” she said. “Finally, SSA as a government agency is officially listening to me and taking my situation seriously.”

Jeff Nesbit, a spokesman for the Social Security Administration, confirmed that one of the women will be assigned a new social security number and that their personal information and income histories, which were once combined under the same number, have now been separated.

“The agency moved quickly to resolve it once both cases were brought to our attention,” Nesbit said. “Part of the agency’s mission is to resolve cases such as this.”

The Chicagoland Kim, who is a doctoral student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Northwestern University and works there as a teaching assistant, said she was preparing for a class when she heard from the director of the SSA office in Evanston, a woman she has dealt with before.

“To be honest when I picked up the phone and found out that it was from the Social Security agency, I kind of panicked and even got a little scared fearing that something went wrong,” she said.

But the director called with the news that a new Social Security card with a new number had been issued and was in the mail, along with an official explanation for the bureaucratic snafu, she said.

“Most of all, the director apologized to me on behalf of her organization,” she said.

The L.A. Kim said she got no apology from the SSA, but she has received confirmation that she no longer shares her Social Security number with her namesake in Evanston. She said her finances are still a mess and she’s trying to get her green card application moving again.

“I am not totally happy because I am still left with having to deal with so many problems, including issues with the IRS, because of the SSA’s mistake,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., said his Los Angeles office is aware of L.A. Kim’s situation and ready to help her.

Both women were born on the same day in South Korea, although in different cities.

Their problems began about five years ago when they were both issued Social Security cards bearing the same number.

L.A. Kim got hers on June 18, 2018. Chicagoland Kim received her card a little over a month later, on July 23, 2018.

They soon found themselves contending with having their banking and savings accounts shut down and their credit cards blocked, and being suspected of identity theft. And it wasn’t until recently that the two Kims realized they had been issued the same Social Security number by mistake.

The breakthrough came this month when L.A. Kim went to her Chase Bank branch to find out why her credit card had been canceled. There, she discovered that the Chicagoland Kim had, on Feb. 4, left her phone number at her Chase bank branch with instructions for whomever was using her Social Security number “to contact her.”

Once the women realized what had happened, they said they got pushback from the SSA when they tried to convince skeptical agency workers that they both had been issued the same number.

“I was becoming so desperate and distraught," the Chicagoland Kim said. "There seemed to be no way out of the mess. And finally, just one phone call from the director, and the official letter changed all that. It wiped away all the jitters I had in facing the mess."