Tracking down an identity thief

Tuesday, May 20th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

A new twist on identity theft, where a person didn't lose his wallet or social security card, he actually had his identity sold and never knew it until the IRS came calling.

News on 6 crime reporter Lori Fullbright says Jose' Hernandez came to America 18 years ago and settled in Tulsa. He became a naturalized citizen, has worked hard and never had any trouble, until someone bought his identity and has been working under Hernandez's name.

Jose Hernandez was shocked when he got a letter from the IRS saying he hadn't reported income from his job at Valmont Industries in Claremore. Hernandez has never worked at the galvanizing company and says no one at the police department; social security office or IRS could help him. So, what Jose' did next, he found an address on the IRS forms that brought him to this apartment complex at 31st and Mingo and actually found the man who'd been using his name and working at that place in Claremore and the man admitted he bought the papers on the streets. "He said he bought it from somebody else for $300." Fullbright: "Your information?" Jose': "Yes."

Jose' found his imposter on Thursday, then on Monday went to the Claremore business, only to find the man had quit on Friday and the company couldn't help either. And by Tuesday, no one knew of the so-called Jose' Hernandez at that apartment. Fullbright, "Hi, I'm with channel 6, does a man by the name of Jose' Hernandez live here?" Woman: "No speak English." Fullbright: "Yeah, does he live here?"

The IRS wasn't surprised by this story; they hear ones just like it every day. Carolyn Sink with the IRS: "They can ruin your credit, ruin your reputation. Some of the damage they do, you can't even place a value on."

That's exactly what the real Jose' Hernandez is worried about, this imposter could not only get another job, but commit a crime and they'd come looking for this Jose' and he had the guy right in front of him. "Even if I have him in my hands." Fullbright: "What can you do with him?" Jose': "What can I do to him legally?"

If INS or the Labor Department finds the guy, he could be deported, with bigger fish to fry and budget cuts, that's not likely to happen. Anybody in this situation should immediately call the social security fraud hotline number and credit bureau hotlines.

And, I'm happy to say the IRS plans to help Mr. Hernandez straighten this out. And the Claremore company said it would cooperate with the IRS but couldn't turn over employee information to someone who just walked in.