07 September 2008

SSN problems

One of the very first things I took care of when I arrived here in the US of A in November 2007 was to go to the nearest Social Security Office and apply for a Social Security Number. That was hassle-free, a week later I had the number and two weeks later my SSN card arrived in the mail. I immediately gave my employer my SSN number for use on the pay roll records and I then used it immediately to open a bank account. I then used it twice in April for filing my taxes and to apply for an REI Visa card and again in August to get a Firestone card. There was a hiccup there when I gave them my SSN at Firestone and my application was initially declined. I then wondered if I had transposed the number - I was certain of the last 6 numbers and of the first 3 as well, but unsure if I had transposed the second and third number. Consequently I then gave them the first 3 numbers again, but with the second and third number transposed. Bingo! It went through and all was joy. I got my 10% discount on my car service and Firestone got me in their web.

Then I went home and checked my SSN card and discovered that the number that had worked at Firestone was, in fact, the wrong one... I had been correct inititally, but the correct number had caused my application to be declined, whereas the wrong number caused my application to go through. I thought this was weird, as I know that the IRS caught me in using a wrong SSN when I filed my taxes in April - I got a letter from them saying the the supplied SSN didn't match with the one on record with Social Security for my name.

Anyway, I didn't think much about it until I tried to purchase an iPhone and problems started. I'm not up for standing in a queue, so I decided to wait until the first excitement had died down. Consequently I walked into an Apple store a couple of weeks ago, armed with SSN, credit card, ID and everything else required to get an iPhone.

Everything went slick until they ran a credit check on me and the little handheld terminal the Apple employees use started to flash bright red. The Apple guy excused himself and said he had to make a call to AT&T credit or something like that. It then turned out that the the SSN I had used in the Apple Store didn't match the one on file with Equifax, Experian and TransUnion (the 3 large credit monitors in the US) - the first 3 numbers were apparently transposed (although it was very difficult to get exact information out of the person on the other end of the line). I was told I had to go home and call Equifax and have them update my file with the correct SSN.

The next day I called Equifax and after spending 10 minutes on the phone asking loads of security questions, half of which I couldn't remember the answer to, it turned out that, indeed, they had on record a SSN where numbers 2 and 3 were transposed compared to the numbers on my card. I was then told to mail in copies of my driver license, utility bills, SSN, and other stuff, and they would fix it in 30-45 working days! I objected vigorously to the processing time, arguing that I couldn't sign up for *anything* when my SSN was wrong, but the lady on the other end of the line was unwaivering. I then asked if I could fax my info to them and reluctantly I got a fax number from her. The same day I then faxed and mailed all the info to Equifax and about a week later I received a letter from them that they had now corrected my file. Hoorah!

Off to the Apple Store I went again, but alas, the same thing happened, and I was now told that there was a mismatch between the 3 credit bureaus - they now had different SSN's on file for me! I had to personally get in touch with TransUnion and Experian and have them update my records too (why don't these dinosaurs talk to each other and update their records accordingly?)

The next day I was on the phone with TransUnion who were relatively fast to comprehend what was going on. And since I already knew from my chat to Equifax exactly what SSN they had on file I told them that, together with my current and previous address and then they updated my SSN right there on the phone; no need to fax or mail anything! Then I only had to try to get a hold of Experian, but it was impossible to get anything else than the answer machine menu, with no options for disputing errors in my file. I could dispute a credit report, but since I do not have a report, there was nothing to dispute. Consequently I then mailed the same stuff to Experian that I mailed to Equifax. It has been about a week now so I hope that they'll get back to me soon with a standard form letter that they have corrected my file.

The question is, where did the wrong SSN come from initially? I know that I used the wrong one at Firestone, but only because the correct one didn't go through in the first place. So the wrong number was already on file with the credit bureaus by then. My employer had the correct SSN from the start, as my SSN card arrived at my work so they took it directly from the card. The IRS initially got the wrong number from me, but they sent me a letter asking for clarification when they discovered that the SSN I had given them didn't match with my full name on record with Social Security. So if the credit bureaus got the wrong number from the IRS then why didn't they get the correct one when I gave it to the IRS? Perhaps I gave the wrong number to U.S. Bank when I applied for the REI VISA card. But why on earth don't they check that against the number on file with Social Security and my name? Are they not allowed to access Social Security's files? I essentially had 2 social security numbers on file in my name; one (the correct one) with government related businesses and another (with 2 numbers transposed) with private businesses. What a ridiculous system.

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