Tuesday, June 7, 2005


I don’t know about you, but long ago I grew increasingly irritated as more and more institutions demanded my Social Security number to use in my transactions with them. You couldn’t get a credit card without giving away that number; you couldn’t get a loan without giving that number away, although it quite clearly states on the card that it’s not to be used for identification. It has become pervasive in our society, so much so that the act of withholding it is meaningless. And because we have allowed this numbering system to become so common and meaningless, we have a whole new industry…

These days, most immigrants working unlawfully buy a document combo for $100 to $200 that includes a fake green card and fake Social Security card with a nine-digit number plucked out of thin air. "They'll make it for you right there at the flea market," said David Blanco, an illegal immigrant from Costa Rica who works as an auto mechanic in Stockton, Calif.

This process has one big drawback, however. Each year, Social Security receives millions of W-2 earning statements with names or numbers that do not match its records. Nine million poured in for 2002, many of them just simple mistakes. In response the agency sends hundreds of thousands of letters asking employers to correct the information. These letters can provoke the firing of the offending worker.

That chance of a firing has started another industry, renting out of valid numbers.

Many legal immigrants, whether living in the United States or back in Mexico, are happy to provide them: as they pad their earnings by letting illegal immigrants work under their name and number, they also enhance their own unemployment and pension benefits. And sometimes they charge for the favor.

And still we haven’t learned…the Social Security card, whether valid or false, still states that it is not to be used for identification.

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