SALT LAKE CITY (KSL News Services) -- SALT LAKE CITY (AP) --
Arrest warrants were issued Friday for five illegal immigrants who fraudulently used the Social Security numbers assigned to Utah children to get jobs.
The five were expected to be arrested on identity theft and forgery charges by early next week in an ongoing operation that could eventually land hundreds of undocumented workers in jail, Utah Assistant Attorney General Rich Hamp said.
"The numbers are being sold on the streets, you can virtually buy for $20 and get a forged Social Security card that you present to employers to get employment," he said. The Social Security Administration initiated the investigation when it came to the state, saying there seemed to be a problem in Utah with compromised Social Security numbers.
The ensuing investigation turned up at least 1,800 Social Security numbers assigned to Utah children 12 or under, with 90 percent to 95 percent of them being used by someone working.
Realizing that number was too unwieldy, investigators whittled the list down to about 200 names of children supposedly collecting wages.
"In terms of catching them (illegal immigrants), it was a matter of taking a kid's number, coming back with 5-year-olds that were making several thousand of dollars a year in a county other than where they live," Hamp said.
"It became kind of easy, the number is what is bothersome," he said.
Identity theft problems also were cropping up, he said, like when parents sent their child's Social Security number into CHIP, the state-run insurance program for children. "We've had kids that have gotten letters from the state, saying they can't get CHIPs program benefits because 'You're 30 and working,"' he said.
The numbers are easy to forge. Since those applying for Social Security numbers from Utah receive either a 528 or 529 number as the first three digits, forgers just make up at random the remaining six numbers, which are then put on a faked Social Security card.
Since this is being done at the street level and in a number of states, Hamp said it's too difficult to go after the sellers, and it's easier to find the buyers at their new jobs. Hamp said potential employers could prevent this problem by calling the Social Security Administration on a toll-free number to see if an applicant's Social Security number is valid. "The problem could be readily solved up front," he said.
The state investigation is a joint operation with the Office of Inspector General for the Social Security Administration and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
(Copyright 2005 KSL NewsRadio 1160 & The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)