SACRAMENTO, Dec. 10, 2018 – California Attorney General Becerra today joined a bipartisan multistate coalition of 43 attorneys general in a letter urging the prioritization of updates to the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) electronic databases and verification methods, so that institutions can instantly check for and flag synthetic identity theft. By statute, the users of the system — namely banks and their service providers — pay fees to cover the cost of developing and operating the system. Synthetic identity theft occurs when identity thieves use real Social Security numbers, along with fictitious names and birthdates, to manufacture new identities. Currently, delays in the verification process at the SSA allow thieves an opportunity to use stolen identities before an incident is flagged.

“The Social Security Administration should use every resource available to protect the identity of vulnerable individuals,” said Attorney General Becerra. “It’s time to move the SSA’s verification technologies into the 21st century to keep up with identity thieves who are exploiting our vulnerabilities. We urge the SSA to prioritize making its systems as nimble and strong as possible, when the funding is available from banks and others that will use the system, to combat this growing problem.”

In May 2018, Congress passed legislation directing the SSA to develop an electronic database for financial institutions to verify consumers’ information. The SSA’s current system does not allow these institutions to check identity in real time, giving fraudsters an opportunity to exploit any delay. The thieves target the most vulnerable, particularly children and recent immigrants without credit histories. This has an ongoing impact on the credit and finances of these individuals who enter the market already hobbled with poor credit and an inaccurate credit history, including fraudulent transactions. In the letter, the attorneys general advise the SSA to implement electronic signatures, or other verification methods, so that financial institutions can verify identity and flag identity theft in real time to protect these vulnerable groups from severe harm.

In the letter to the SSA, Attorney General Becerra joins the attorneys general of Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Washington, D.C.

Attorney General Becerra has made protecting consumers a top priority. In April 2018, he issued a consumer alert for seniors regarding fraud and identity theft. Californians who believe they are victims of identity theft should visit the Attorney General’s Identity Theft First Aid page and can take steps to limit the damage done by a thief by following the identity theft victim checklist.

A copy of the letter can be found here.