Boy, did Jim Williams get a wrong number.
For 20 years, the Spokane mechanic and father of two unwittingly shared a Social Security number with another Jim Williams in Illinois.
The other guy, it turns out, is a convicted killer on parole.
“Out of 200 million people with Social Security cards, I have to be the guy with the same number as a convict,” Williams said, shaking his head.
He and his wife, Stacey, feared the worst.
A clever crook could use the number to plunder their bank accounts and take out credit cards in their name.
He could also track them down, since he now knows where they live.
The nightmare started with a January telephone call. It was a woman from the Social Security office in Peoria, Ill. “We have a problem here,” she said.
It had begun innocently enough, Williams was told. A man named James David Williams, 37, walked into the Peoria government office and requested a new card.
He got what he wanted, but workers quickly discovered a glitch: The retirement benefits belonged to James Dean Williams, 37, of Spokane.
Officials assured the Spokane Williams there was nothing to worry about. They would help him with the paperwork needed to change his number, issued in 1975.
Williams cooperated, but he was also curious. He kept asking questions about the glitch. Why didn’t the other man have Social Security benefits?
Finally, one official let it slip that the other guy is an ex-convict.
Checks with the Illinois prison system confirmed that James David Williams spent 17 years behind bars for murder before getting paroled in 1994.
That wasn’t what the Spokane family wanted to hear.
Jim and Stacey Williams had already protected themselves by tearing up their VISA card and adding secret passwords to their bank accounts.
But now they really started to worry. Will police show up one day and arrest the wrong Jim Williams?
“I’m waiting for the FBI to come to my door with a warrant for my husband’s arrest,” she said.
Social Security officials declined to discuss the mix-up Friday, citing client confidentiality.
But agency spokesman Phil Gambino said it is “extremely rare” for duplicate Social Security numbers to be issued today.
That kind of thing happened more often 20 or 30 years ago, he said, before the massive system was completely computerized.
“Thank God it doesn’t happen very often. It could turn an individual’s life upside down,” Gambino said.
The Jim Williams of Spokane can relate.
One day, he’s raising two kids, paying a mortgage and working in a downtown automobile repair shop - “just trying to make a decent living and have some fun.”
The next day, he’s linked to a killer.
“Believe me, I’ve been thinking about that every day,” he said.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.