Suspect SSNs Can Now Be Locked in E-Verify

By Roy Maurer Nov 19, 2013
The E-Verify employment eligibility verification system now has the ability to “lock” Social Security numbers that appear to have been used fraudulently, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced Nov. 18, 2013.

“This enhancement provides a critical safeguard to the E-Verify system by detecting and preventing potential fraudulent use of Social Security numbers to gain work authorization,” the agency said.

E-Verify is the free Web-based service offered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in partnership with the Social Security Administration (SSA), that allows employers to electronically verify the employment eligibility of new employees by checking the information on their Form I-9 against that in the DHS and SSA databases

“This is a step forward for the E-Verify system,” said Ann Cun, immigration attorney and counsel at LawLogix Group, an I-9, E-Verify and immigration case management solutions provider. “Critics and proponents of the system have always lamented that the system did not prevent unauthorized individuals from using valid documents, including documents such as a Social Security card, during an E-Verify verification case.”

Identity theft has long been the Achilles’ heel of the program, agreed Josie Gonzalez, partner at immigration law firm Stone Grzegorek & Gonzalez, based in Los Angeles.

A company may enter information into E-Verify that appears valid—such as a matching name, date of birth and Social Security number (SSN)—but is, in fact, stolen, borrowed or purchased from another individual. This new security enhancement enables USCIS to lock an SSN that appears to have been misused, protecting it from further misuse in E-Verify.

The agency will use a combination of algorithms, detection reports and analysis to identify patterns of fraudulent SSN use and then lock the number, much like a credit card company places a hold on a card that appears to have been stolen.

Cun considered what might trigger a lock in the E-Verify system. “A Social Security number may be a mismatch in the employee’s address indicated in Section 1 of the Form I-9 to the address used on another Form I-9 that had also been run through the system. Alternatively, a heavily used Social Security number, for multiple employers in geographic locations during any given time period, may be another trigger for activating the security lock.”

“My guess is that E-Verify will not be able to catch every instance of misuse, only patterns of misuse, such as the same SSN being used multiple times across the country,” said Gonzalez. “It won’t catch the person who borrows his relative’s documents and somewhat resembles the photo on those documents, and it probably won’t catch instances of misuse of a Social Security number that doesn’t reflect an abnormal pattern.”

Cun expressed concern over how large a role geography, as a factor by itself, may play in triggering a lock. “Today’s workforce includes many employees that are hired remotely to work in multiple locations for an employer,” she said. “We wouldn’t want any one group of workers to be disproportionately impacted by the security enhancement.”

If an employee attempts to use a locked SSN, E-Verify will generate a tentative nonconfirmation (TNC). The individual will then have the opportunity to contest the finding at a local SSA field office. If an SSA officer confirms that the employee’s identity correctly matches the SSN, the TNC will be changed to “employment authorized” status in E-Verify.

“The new enhancements will not catch 100 percent of all instances of identity theft,” Gonzalez noted. “No system is perfect. However, the new enhancements will go a long way to combat identity theft while offering protections for the victims of identity theft.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him on Twitter @SHRMRoy. ​​​

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