Albany teen victim of ID theft

Article author: 
Steven Lathrop
Article publisher: 
Albany Democrat-Harold
Article date: 
Monday, December 19, 2011
Article category: 
Article Body: 

Three weeks ago Dannica Dillenbeck had never heard of Mission, Texas. Now, it’s likely she’ll never forget it.

The city of 77,000 near the Mexican border became all too familiar to Dillenbeck when she tried to fill out a job application for the new Walmart store in Albany.

According to Walmart records, she was already employed by the company.

“I had to enter my Social Security number and it was already in their records,” said Dillenbeck, 17, who has been searching for a job for a year.

Before she even got a chance to fill out the online application, she was flagged as already employed by the company.

“I’ve never been employed anywhere,” Dillenbeck said.

She contacted the Lebanon store and the personnel manager said company data had her Social Security number registered to an Alfonso Martinez in Mission.

So she and her mother, Melissa Murphy, went to the Albany Social Security office, which verified her number and issued confirming paperwork. That sent them to the Albany police to report the ID theft.

“I was told to be more careful,” Dillenbeck said. “I had been careful. I was hoping the police would do more.”

Eager to resolve the situation, Dillenbeck and her mom called the Mission police. At first the reaction was the same, but through persistence — it took eight days — a case number was finally issued.

In the meantime, Dillenbeck contacted the Federal Trade Commission, which aids the public in trying to resolve identity theft problems. She also called a credit reporting agency to report the fraud.

“Those agencies were helpful,” she said.

Eventually, Mission police made an arrest.

“When they got back to us they said the man was an illegal alien and had purchased Dannica’s number for $200,” Murphy said.

It is a problem that is becoming more frequent, according to Steven Toporoff of the FTC.

“Targeting children for ID theft, especially Social Security numbers, is more common than people think and it’s growing,” Toporoff said.

The FTC records fraud complaints but has no investigative arm. It estimates up to 140,000 cases of child identity theft have occurred in the last few years. Toporoff said organized groups hack into medical records and school systems.

“Some also use existing patterns to project what might be a Social Security number,” Toporoff said. “And sometimes they get lucky. It’s almost impossible to trace.”

Children are targeted because it usually takes much longer for the theft to be discovered. In Dillenbeck’s case she may not have found out until Walmart reported taxes to the IRS.

Her mother said the person using her number had no bank account and dealt strictly with cash.

“She could have wound up getting something from the IRS down the line saying she owed taxes,” Murphy said.

Toporoff said her problem isn’t totally solved. The thieves still have her number and could sell it again.

Like the FTC, the Social Security Administration has no investigative unit of its own.

“We just issue numbers,” said Michael Webb of the Social Security regional office in Seattle.

According to Webb, the administration is trying to minimize the threat as it issues new numbers. It is in the process of randomizing numbering to eliminate patterns.

It will get rid of its current use of the geographic significance attached to the first three digits and also change the way it issues the fourth and fifth digits.

It’s too late to help Dillenbeck, who has continued looking for work without further incident, but her mother said getting the word out is what is important.

“If what Dannica has gone through can help anyone else, I believe it is worth it,” Murphy said.

Dannica Dillenbeck, 17, and her mother, Melissa Murphy, both of Albany, spent two weeks tracking down a man in Texas who had stolen Dillenbeck’s Social Security number and used it to get a job at Walmart. (David Patton/Democrat-Herald)


FTC spokesman Steven Toporoff said victims of identity theft should take the following steps to minimize the impact:

• Place a fraud alert on your credit by contacting one of the three companies that monitor credit reports. Those companies are Equifax, Trans Union and Experian. The company contacted is required to notify the other two, which will place an alert on their versions of your credit report.

• Review your credit report for debts you can’t explain, accounts you did not open and inquiries from companies you have not contacted.

• Close accounts you know or believe have been tampered with.

• File a report with the local police or the police where the identity theft took place. Get a case number or something to verify a report has been filed.

• File a complaint with the FTC online or by phone. Also contact Social Security and the Internal Revenue Service.