Two people use Holland woman’s Social Security number
HOLLAND, Mich.— We need it to work to identify ourselves and even get loans. When it comes to our Social Security number, we expect it to stay secure. However, as some Americans find out from time to time that’s not always the case.
One Holland woman found out that some state and Social Security departments have access that can prove someone else was using her number, but they don’t alert you.
In this particular case, it wasn’t just one person using this woman’s Social Security number, but two. Beverly Zimmerman said she would have never found out if not by accident. She claims the same agency that she got the information from about someone using her Social is the one that didn’t tell her it was happening in the first place.
Heaps of paper is what Beverly and Don Zimmerman’s life looked like from 2010 to 2014, and they are afraid it’s about to happen all over again. An experience they are not excited to relive. Zimmerman said when it comes to her Social Security number it’s like a free for all. Claiming it was like a Russian roulette of who will use it next.
In 2007, Zimmerman was living in Arizona and had a Sears credit card opened in her name out of Fort Collins, Colorado. She had never been to Fort Collins, so she immediately reported it when she found out. Looking back, she said that was the first sign of an exhausting road ahead.
“I thought everything was taken care of. They wiped the debt, and that was that,” said Zimmerman.
From that point on Zimmerman was diligent about checking her credit. She carefully looked over her earnings report every year that she got from Social Security, and there were no red flags until she went to apply for disability in 2010. A denial came shortly after in the mail listing several reasons, including that she was able to hold several recent jobs, everything from a dry cleaning company to a flooring company. Once again, it was happening in Fort Collins, Colorado.
“Low and behold I am thinking that’s where I had that Sears card opened,” said Zimmerman.
Zimmerman called the IRS and Social Security more times than she cares to remember asking the same questions: Did they have any information about someone using her social security number in Colorado?
She said the response was always the same: that her earnings statement only showed her earnings and no one else was using her number to their knowledge. So after hitting dead end after dead end, Zimmerman got creative.
“So I decided I will call the IRS. I told them, ‘my name is Beverly Zimmerman,’ and, ‘this is my Social Security number,’ and, ‘do you have any W2’s there under the name Country Cleaners?’ I didn’t say, ‘is someone using my number.’ I didn’t say any of that; just asked for the W2’s since I had the name of one of the places of work that were listed in the disability denial,” said Zimmerman.
That’s when she finally got the answers she was looking for. The department not only gave her a list of work history from the woman using her social security number, but an address of her current place of employment.
“I called the Fort Collins Police Department,” said Zimmerman.
She took matters into her own hands and reported someone using her Social Security number to the local police. In the police report from Fort Collins Police the woman admitted to buying a Social Security number in Salinas, California in 1996 so she could work in the United States. That woman was arrested and taken to jail. She bonded out, and was let off with a misdemeanor and ordered to pay a small fine.
“She had to pay me restitution of $89. That’s for having my social security number for 19 years,” said Zimmerman.
It was shortly after this that Zimmerman received a letter from the state of Colorado trying to collect taxes from her.
“You call everybody and it falls on deaf ears. They could care less,” said Zimmerman.
Not only was she trying to explain the situation to the state of Colorado, but she was trying to get her disability case reopened at the same time. That’s when she enlisted the help of Arizona Senator John McCain to fight those allegations and avoid paying those taxes. Sen. McCain was able to obtain a new hire query document from the Social Security Department showing a list of all the places the woman had worked and used Beverly’s Social Security number to obtain employment.
Zimmerman’s case might not be unique, either. The Bureau of Justice estimates an annual financial loss of $17.3 billion in the US in 2007 because of identity theft. This was the same year a woman opened up a Sears credit card under Zimmerman’s name and Social Security number. Years later in 2014, Bureau of Justice said 17.6 million were the victims of identity theft. With numbers that high, one thing that still bothered Beverly and her husband was that if Social Security had this information, or was able to get access to it in any way through New Hire Queries, why didn’t anyone alert them?
“People will get their earnings statements and they will look at it and they will go everything is wonderful. No, it’s not wonderful you need to check,” said the Zimmermans.
FOX 17 reached out to Social Security Department several times. They opted to communicate through e-mail only. Through several exchanges, they directed us towards several different departments like Health and Human Services, who directed us right back to the Social Security Department. They eventually gave us some answers. They said they looked into our inquiry and found that there have been no earnings reported on Ms. Zimmerman’s Social Security since 2011.
Doug Ngyuen, the regional communications director of Social Security administration in the Chicago-region confirmed she had been receiving Social Security Disability benefits since January 2011.
“The Disability benefits were initially denied and finally approved at the hearings level for medical reasons, not because of her SSN issues. The last SSN Card was issued to Ms. Zimmerman in 1993, and we have no record that this number is being used by someone else,” wrote Ngyuen.
The problem is there was someone using her social security number, and the woman admitted she was using it after she was arrested. Social Security department went on to say the new hire queries were not under the control of the SSA, rather under the jurisdiction of the Department of Health and Human Services.
FOX 17 confirmed with DHHS that they were not under control of that information and we would have to talk to the Social Security Department. The Social Security Department is where Zimmerman got the information when she asked about W2’s, and it is where Sen. McCain got the information that someone else was using her Social Security number as well.
Also, Ngyuen said new hire queries are based on a state by state level, and they use them on a very limited scope, like to collect information for disability.
Zimmerman thought since they had accessed these during her quest to apply for disability it should have raised a red flag for someone somewhere. It was this thought that kept bothering her so this past November (2016) she decided to check with Social Security for peace of mind, and was met with some unwelcome news. They told her she had earnings for 2014 and 2015. She explained she was collecting from the government and she is on disability, so that is incorrect.
Turns out, a man in Miami has used her Social Security number to work there. Once again, something she would have never known if she didn’t ask.
“The Social Security and IRS don’t think it’s their responsibility to notify citizens of this country when their numbers are being used by someone else,” said Zimmerman’s husband, Don.
FOX 17 asked the Social Security department why they don’t red flag things like this. In this instance, they said they never had any record of someone else using her Social Security number. They also wouldn’t comment on whether there is a system in place to red flag issues like this.
“The biggest thing that is going on right now in our opinions is that everybody in America needs to know about the new hire query. Social Security doesn’t just offer that information,” said Zimmerman.
The biggest question the Zimmermans still have is where does the money go that the government is collecting from the people who used her Social Security number to work? The department did not answer that question. The Zimmmermans claimed at one point in their hundreds of phone calls someone from the department said it goes into a “special” fund, but would not specify beyond that.
Social Security Department told Zimmerman that she could get a new number if she proved it had been misused, something the Zimmermans believe was proven throughout this whole process.
They said if there’s one takeaway from this whole experience is to call and keep tabs on new hire queries or W2’s under your name so you can make sure they are actually yours.
The Social Security department did give us this information to pass along. All these steps the Zimmermans took.
We encourage your viewers to open up their own personal my Social Security accounts which gives them secure and ready access to their lifetime earnings records and printable Social Security Statements. To correct their Social Security earnings record, they may contact us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).
We cannot comment on the information contained in the New Hires queries which are input at the individual States’ level and serve a broader scope than Social Security disability claims. For example, below are two links from the State of Michigan’s Office of Child Support that explain this process: