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Numbers can add up to ID theft

Bert Caldwell The Spokesman-Review

Somewhere in Philadelphia is a man behind on his car payments.

Now, there may be more than one man in the City of Brotherly Love dodging his financial obligations — what are the odds in a population of 1.5 million? — but only that one concerns Lynn Moore.

Moore owns Moore Support Services LLC in Coeur d’Alene. Moore does medical billing, and also helps doctors set up their practices. She has 18 employees.

Although Moore Support has been in business four years, it was only in April that she incorporated. She obtained a new taxpayer identification number at the same time.Shortly afterward, Moore purchased a Jeep Cherokee with a loan from Chrysler Financial. She used the business name and taxpayer number. Just a few weeks later, on May 26, Chrysler called to inform her she was two months behind on her Dodge Dakota payments.

“I said ‘Really, I don’t own a Dodge Dakota,’” Moore says.

But, sure enough, the identification number on the loan form corresponded with that for Moore Support. Except that the number was not a taxpayer ID number, it was the Social Security number of that Dodge Dakota driver in Philadelphia. Only hyphens differentiated one from the other. Social Security numbers have the familiar three-two-four configuration, taxpayer ID numbers begin with two digits followed by a hyphen, then the final seven numbers.

Somehow, Chrysler Financial’s computers had apparently combined two files.

A Chrysler Financial spokesman, Stephan Koller, says that should not be possible. Although the company has a single computer system, a firewall separates individual and business accounts. Migration of information from one side to the other is impossible, he says.

Koller says a breach might have occurred when the loan information was entered. “It’s a human error,” he says.

Moore says she was advised to notify the IRS of the problem. She did. The response, she says, was no response. She was told number duplication occurs frequently.

“I just think it’s bizarre that the IRS thinks it’s OK,” Moore says.

But IRS spokesman David Stell says instances of taxpayer ID and Social Security overlap have never been brought to the agency’s attention by taxpayers, or by the Taxpayer Advocates who often deal with unique problems.

Nick Warrick, president of the ACRAnet credit reporting bureau in Spokane, says individuals with bad credit histories sometimes make up a Social Security number that may match a taxpayer ID number. Some credit-repair services, in fact, help individuals obtain a taxpayer ID number for use when applying for a loan, but not for payroll purposes at work.

Indifferent lenders may not detect the subterfuge, but it can haunt the perpetrators.

“It’s against the law,” Warrick says. “It can cause them a great deal of grief.”

Warrick says he has never encountered a case of Social Security and IRS number overlap.

Jay Foley has.

Foley and wife Linda are co-executive directors of the Identity Theft Resource Center in San Diego. In theory, he says, overlap of taxpayer ID and Social Security numbers is supposed to be impossible because there are some sets of numbers the Social Security Administration does not use.

“I’ve heard of a couple instances of leakage,” Foley says. “Why our government chose nine numbers for both, I’ll never know.”

Instances of overlap are so rare — so far — he does not expect either agency to make a fix.

Moore says she does not intend to change her taxpayer ID number again. But she is concerned that the Philadelphia Dakota owner becomes aware of the problem, and exploits the opportunity for financial mischief.

She says the man’s identity was disclosed to her during the process of sorting out the problem.

“I know his name, his Social Security number and his address,” she says, underscoring the obvious potential for identity theft.

Moore says she has no intention of contacting the Dakota owner, and possibly creating the unease that “Some gal back in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, could do me a lot of harm.”

Although she praises Chrysler Financial’s help ending the confusion, Moore says “Ultimately, the burden fell on myself.”

As a business owner, she has better things to do. Like drive that new Cherokee.

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