USCIS Introduces Social Security Number Locking Feature in E-Verify

Yesterday was a step forward for the E-Verify System.  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.  However, things are going to be different.

USCIS announced on November 18, 2013, that the E-Verify System will now be able to incorporate a security feature where a social security number that “appears to have been misused” will now be “locked” in the system, similar to what credit card companies currently do for clients.  The locking mechanism is triggered by a combination of complex algorithms, detection reports and other identification patterns built into the system.

WHAT TRIGGERS THE LOCK?

It’s not hard to understand how the process might unfold during an actual E-Verify case.  Remember, E-Verify is a companion process to completing the Form I-9 and derives all of its data from that form.  A couple of (unverified) theories as to what might trigger a “lock” in the E-Verify system of 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.  Of course, these are simply theories and not confirmed by USCIS.  Presumably that information would be closely held to thwart any would-be fraudsters from overcoming the security enhancement in E-Verify.

I asked Josie Gonzalez, Partner at Stone Grzegorek and Gonzalez, LLP how she thought E-Verify would know that an “imposter” is using another person’s identity?

My guess is that E-Verify will not be able to catch every instance of misuse –only “patterns of misuse.”  It will be able to detect if the same social security number is being used multiple times across the country.  Generally, counterfeiters who purchase the identity data of another will sell the documentation to hundreds of individuals, not just to one person. Where E-verify sees an abnormal pattern of usage of the social security number, it will “lock” the social security card.

While it’s currently unknown, I’m hoping that geography, as a factor by itself, does not play a significant role in triggering a social security lock. Today’s workforce includes many employees that are hired remotely to work in multiple locations for an employer.  We wouldn’t want any one group of workers to be disproportionately impacted by the security enhancement.

Ms. Gonzalez expressed some reservations along with hope for the security features.

The new enhancements will not catch 100% of all instances of identity theft. It won’t catch the person who borrows their relative’s documents and somewhat resembles those documents; and it probably will not catch instances of misuse of a social security that doesn’t reflect an abnormal pattern.  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.

WHAT IS THE EFFECT OF THE LOCK?

For workers who have triggered the lock on the social security number used, they will receive a tentative non-confirmation (TNC), which will require them to take affirmative action to resolve the matter by visiting a social security office and prove their identity before being allowed to work.  On paper, the security enhancement is certainly a positive step forward to thwarting fraudulent use of documents and preventing identity theft.  Assuming this enhancement in the system works according to plan, then would-be identity thieves will be ineligible to work.

Ms. Gonzalez commented that the enhancement would also provide some protection to individuals who are harmed by identity theft:

The victim of identity theft will also not suffer the misfortune of having to resolve IRS tax assessments for the wages of others or the denial of other benefits such as unemployment or disability claims because one’s social security number is used by others.

It will be interesting, though, to see if any false-positive-TNCs might result when actual owners of their social security numbers mistakenly receive a lock on their social security numbers.  If that occurred, we would be back to square one; of inadvertently making it more difficult or work-authorized individuals to actually work.

WHEN WILL IT GO INTO EFFECT?

The recent announcement was unclear as to when this new security feature would be implemented, or if it is effective as of November 18, 2013.  Ideally, USCIS will continue to update the public on this new development.  I’m sure too, that as employer’s newly hired workers are affected by the lock; more information will trickle in to us so that we may provide an update.  I guess here’s to progress and hope for the best results!