When Gainesville police arrested Gilberto Santillan-Cisneros at a Dawsonville Highway bank recently, he had a Social Security card and Georgia driver’s license identifying him as another man who actually lived 1,200 miles away, officials say.
Authorities say Santillan-Cisneros, 37, was posing as 42-year-old Alfred Valdez in order to open a bank account. But Valdez, a U.S. citizen who lives in Brownsville, Texas, had earlier reported his Social Security card lost or stolen. Santillan-Cisneros, a Mexican national who authorities say is in the country illegally, was arrested and charged with identity fraud.
As the tax deadline looms, the number of cases of identity fraud reported to Gainesville police increases. Many victims are from out of state, and most don’t know their identity has been stolen by an illegal immigrant until they open a letter from the IRS, said Sgt. Kevin Gaddis.
“We get in several reports a month from all over the country where people find out someone’s using their identity in Gainesville,” said Gaddis, who received a similar complaint this week from a California victim.
“The IRS will send (victims) letters that say, ‘We show you having income at XYZ poultry company in Gainesville, Ga.’ Usually this time of year, you see a lot more of those notification letters.”
Gaddis said poultry plants are where most of the cases originate, but noted those businesses do what the law requires of them when checking a prospective employee’s Social Security card.
“They run it, and if there’s no alert attached to it, if the true victim is unaware it’s being used, they verify it’s a valid Social Security number and that’s about the extent of it.” Gaddis said.
Gaddis said the local poultry industry is “very cooperative” with police investigations.
“They don’t want the problem themselves,” he said. “They verify what they’re required to, but unless they had a fraud team to go through all this stuff, they would never catch it themselves.”
The Social Security Administration recommends against carrying a Social Security card routinely in a wallet, since it’s only seldom needed, usually when starting a job. In some cases, the agency can issue a new number, but only if there is evidence someone else is using the number illegally.
If you believe someone has stolen your Social Security number, you should contact local authorities, the Federal Trade Commission and the IRS.
Gaddis recommends everyone check their credit at least twice a year.
Gaddis said police get some form of identity theft reported each week, with identity fraud — assuming the identity of another to get a job, open a bank account or lease an apartment — just one type.
In recent weeks, three people have come forward to say their identities were used illegally at three different Gainesville poultry plants. Two of the complainants said that according to IRS records, the fraudulent activity took place in January 2007.
By the time the theft is discovered, the culprit may be long gone, Gaddis said.
“The timing is critical as to when a victim learns someone is using the information,” he said. “You may go to the business where they were employed and they’re no longer there. Then you kind of run into a dead end.”