More than 1,200 people were arrested for alleged immigration violations earlier this week when federal agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided Swift meatpacking plants. The workers were accused of using stolen Social Security numbers in order to get jobs.
Dubbed “Operation Wagon Train,” the raid was the largest such crackdown on illegal immigration. It has drawn the ire of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, and raised questions about the latest identity theft tactics.
“This is not only a case about illegal immigration, which is bad enough. It’s a case about identity theft and violation of the privacy rights and the economic rights of innocent Americans,” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said.
Growing Problem, New Trend
Identity theft is a growing problem in the United States. According to a 2006 Federal Trade Commission report, consumer complaints of identity fraud and theft increased 25 percent between 2003 and 2005, with total economic losses to consumers of approximately US$5 billion and a total cost to businesses of over $48 billion.
However, the combination of identity theft and undocumented workers is a new trend.
“It used to be that sellers of illegal documents simply made up Social Security numbers,” said Brian Graham, shareholder and chair of the immigration practice at Winstead Sechrest and Minick. But now, employers can get immediate confirmation as to whether a number is real. So the counterfeiters have had to change the way they operate.”
Former INS Counsel Tells All
Graham previously worked in the general counsel’s office at the Immigration and Naturalization Service — the agency that preceded Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Businesses and federal authorities eventually will track down the stolen numbers, he said — and when they do, penalties for workers convicted in such a scheme will be much greater.
“The old way, if you got caught with a false number, they simply sent you back to your home country,” Graham observed. “Now, workers implicated in ID theft face up to 15 years in federal prison, and they’ll have to forfeit every penny they made with the stolen Social Security number. In this scenario, identity theft hurts everyone — the people who have their IDs stolen and the workers who receive the stolen information.”
Tip of the Iceberg
This is just the tip of the iceberg, according to Robert Siciliano, CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com and author of The Safety Minute. There will be more reports of illegal immigrants using stolen identities in the months and years ahead, he told TechNewsWorld.
“The victims of this type of fraud may find that their Social Security numbers are used an average of 30 different times. The immigrants are giving it out to friends and family members who are coming across the border,” Siciliano noted.
“Citizens are going to have to pay close attention to their tax returns. This is a nightmare for consumers who are unaware of security issues. They need these wake-up calls so they can be informed of the danger,” he continued, predicting the problem will get much worse before it gets better.