August 9, 2008

Officials: Watch out for ID theft

By Nathaniel Lukefahr
The Facts

Published August 10, 2008

Officials say identity theft always will be a problem in areas such as Brazoria County with lots of manual labor opportunities.

Companies will hire people to mow lawns or do construction work so long as they are able to fill our government-required verification forms and show they reside in the area, Richwood Police Chief Glenn Patton said.

But many companies won’t dive into the applications to ensure the worker’s Social Security number is legitimate and the employee is in the country legally, Patton said.

“As long as they can fill out the information on the I-9, most aren’t going to look very thoroughly,” Patton said. “Most companies are looking for anyone to do the job. If you have a job that requires construction or mowing lawns or is more manual-labor intensive, they are few and far between.”

Clute Police Detective Sgt. Scotty Harris said businesses hiring undocumented workers is a problem because it’s hard to determine whether an employer did it on purpose or was duped by someone with a good Social Security card.

“It’s a current battle that’s hard to win,” Harris said. “Anyone can get a fake ID card at any local flea market, and I’ve even heard of people being able to buy them outside the Social Security office.”

In 2007, Immigration and Customs Enforcement made 863 criminal arrests of employees and 4,077 arrests of administrators for hiring undocumented during what they call worksite enforcements, or the investigations of businesses hiring undocumented workers using the identities of other people.

The worksite enforcements netted about $30 million in fines, according to ICE.

By holding employers accountable through the prospect of criminal charges, ICE is working to ensure companies comply with immigration laws and to reduce the risks presented by undocumented workers to places of employment — including critical infrastructure sites, according to ICE’s Web site.

It’s the employer’s responsibility to hire legal workers to the best of their ability, but ICE offers a program called the ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers to strengthen the hiring of a legal workforce, according to the site.

In the past month, Clute police arrested 24 men posing as others working for a Houston-based seismic testing company. They now are in the county jail awaiting deportation to Mexico or jail sentences in a federal detention center.

The men racked up thousands of dollars in back taxes against the people they posed as, Harris said.

“It’s the crime of the future,” Harris said.

To protect against having an identity stolen and used by someone else, Alvin Police Chief Mike Merkel said people need to be careful when disposing of old driver’s licenses, credit cards or other means of identification.

“Don’t just throw them in the trash can,” he said.

Merkel said it’s best to shred pieces of identification thoroughly.

Also, people don’t need to carry their Social Security card everywhere they go, Merkel said.

Nathaniel Lukefahr is a reporter for The Facts. Contact him at (979) 237-0151.

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