A 23-year-old Brighton man has been fighting five years to replace a Social Security number that has been fraudulently used by a suspected illegal immigrant since 2003, according to police and state tax officials.
The Social Security Administration has twice denied his request for a new number, saying his credit has not been damaged by the identify thief, said Joe and his mom, Tina. The family doesn't want their last name used because they fear retaliation from the identity thief, who remains at large.
But Joe's Social Security theft nightmare, which started when his number was stolen at age 15, has created myriad other problems.
Joe said he didn't discover he was a victim of identity theft until 2007, when state tax officials said he owed a "a large amount of back taxes."
Joe, who was 18 at the time, was working as a part-time laborer for a family business, said his mother, Tina, who's spent years trying to unravel the problem. The mom, an accountant who does Joe's tax returns, told tax officials her son couldn't be making $25,000 a year or failing to pay taxes.
With the help of state tax officials, police and their own amateur investigation, the family learned a man named Prisciliano Peralta -- who also goes by Peralta-Lopez -- had hijacked Joe's Social Security number, the mother said.
Prisciliano Peralta was arrested in Denver in 2009 on an outstanding Adams County warrant for bribery, criminal impersonation and forgery. He fled while on bond and remains a fugitive.
Someone with the same name and birth date as Peralta is also charged in an outstanding 2009 arrest warrant in Adams County with 18 felonies, including several counts of criminal impersonation, attempting to bribe a public official and forging public records, according to court records.
In that case, Peralta is accused of using a federally insured home that he didn't own as collateral for a $20,000 bond to get someone out of jail, according to a report by the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. When the person released from jail vanished and the bond was revoked, HUD lost $54,753 because the home mortgage defaulted.
Despite resolving Joe's initial tax problems, state tax officials temporarily withheld his 2010 tax refund, again saying he owed several years of unpaid taxes, Tina said.
"On Jan. 18 we received a letter from the State of Colorado stating that his refund had been revoked due to collections," said Tina.
Why? Because the Social Security number thief, who often works for dry wall contractors and moving companies in Aurora, doesn't pay taxes, the mother said.
Aurora police Officer Mark Gillis, who has worked with the family and fraud investigators on the identity theft case, said Peralta is believed to be an illegal immigrant.
Gillis said investigators have tried tracking Peralta down at places where he's worked and lived, but he's already moved on.
"We're always one step behind him," Tina said. "He moves. He changes jobs."
The big problem, Tina said, is that the Social Security Administration has refused Joe's requests for a new Social Security number because the identity theft has not harmed his credit history.
"They're just waiting until his credit is ruined in order to help him? That just seems ridiculous and appalling to me," said Lia Fazzone, an attorney retained by Tina. "The Social Security Administration could very easily remedy this by giving him a new Social Security number."
Tina said her research shows that illegal immigrants, who sometimes pay thousands of dollars for a stolen Social Security number, rarely use it to fraudulently obtain credit because they know it's grounds for revoking the number.
On Jan. 25, Tina said, a state tax official at the Department of Revenue insisted that Joe needed a new Social Security card to stop the ID theft victim from facing repeated tax problems. The fear is that the IRS will also eventually come after Joe, Tina said.
The state tax official walked the mother and son to the Social Security Administration's Champa Street office in Denver.
Tina provided a Social Security clerk with a two-inch thick file she'd compiled on the identity theft, including an Aurora police report number, state tax records and a list of firms that have employed the ID thief. Peralta has also been repeatedly cited for driving without a valid driver's license or with a suspended license and driving without proof of insurance, according to court records.
The mother did her own sleuthing, tracking down information from past employers of Peralta. She got a copy of the fraudulent Social Security card with Peralta's name and her son's number on it. She also got a copy of Peralta's apparently bogus resident alien card -- or green card -- bearing his photograph, fingerprint and birth date.
She gave all this to the Social Security clerk who reviewed it for 30 minutes, Tina said.
The clerk came back and said: "You were denied because your credit has not been tampered with," Tina recounted. "We really were not treated very well by the social security administration clerk who helped us."
The mother pointed out that that they'd met other Social Security criteria for getting a new card, including providing evidence that the identity thief was abusing Joe's Social Security number and using it to gain employment.
"But it didn't affect his credit," the clerk repeated, according to the mother.
"It's still going keep coming back. The problem is not going away," the mother told the clerk.
"We were so upset when we left. Nothing's going to be done," Tina told TheDenverChannel.com
The Social Security Administration website warns: "Someone illegally using your Social Security number and assuming your identity can cause a lot of problems."
In order to obtain a new Social Security number, "You also will need to provide evidence that you still are being disadvantaged by the misuse," the agency website states.
"The issuance of a brand new Social Security number is available, but in limited situations," said Mike Baksa, spokesman for the Social Security Administration in Denver.
"There's no two ways about it, it certainly is a problem," Baksa said, referring to Joe's Social Security number theft.
But, in general, Baksa said, "It has to meet a level of severity. The level of the problem has to rise to a certain threshold."
The agency, for example, will issue a new card to a victim of domestic violence, he said.
Baksa said he did not know if a new card would be denied solely because the identity theft had not damaged a person's credit history. Baksa said he would research the issue.
Meanwhile, Joe's Social Security worries continue.
A student at Front Range Community College, Joe was laid off from his job as a ranch caretaker in January and he's receiving unemployment checks.
"He's afraid that they're going to come back and take his unemployment" if authorities accuse him of unemployment fraud because someone is still working under his Social Security number, Tina said.
"He can just run around town and do whatever he wants with my number," said Joe. "It's only a matter of time until the federal government comes and says, 'Well, you haven't been paying your taxes.' Which I have, but not for the other guy using my number."
"My biggest concern is nothing has been done for eight years," said the mother who has called state and congressional lawmakers, the governor's office, state and federal tax agencies, and the Social Security Administration.
"I've gone to everybody who would listen to me. I've called everybody that I can call," she said. "The bottom line is people say: 'There's nothing we can do.'"
"These people are going to continue coming into our country and working by using our social security numbers because they're allowed to," said Tina. "I'm frustrated with social security for not backing him up. He's the victim. They didn't protect him."
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