Jose Marrero, who was born and lived his entire life in Puerto Rico, had no idea that someone else was using his name and Social Security number to charge thousands of dollars in Miami and Chicago. At least, not until the police showed up at his job to arrest him for car theft. Marrero told the Associated Press, “All of the information [on the warrant], all of it, the driver’s license, the Social Security, my address, was mine. I was shocked. I told them simply that it wasn’t me.”
In the U.S., a Puerto Rican’s identity is worth as much as $6,000, since it can be used to hide illegal immigrants. Like most personally identifying documents, Marrero’s were probably stolen from schools or church rectories.
Puerto Rican stolen identities have surfaced in immigration raids all over the country. “Birth certificates have become legal tender,” said Puerto Rico’s secretary of state. Here in the U.S. there are over 14,000 variations of the birth certificate. I personally have five versions of my own. That’s a stupid system.
Puerto Rico’s current solution is to void all existing birth certificates and have everyone reapply for new ones with better security, a plan that will make it harder to get fake documents in the future. But with millions of legal existing passports and driver’s licenses still valid, how is the real person identified?
The AP article states that the problem stems from the Puerto Rican tradition of requiring birth certificates to enroll in schools or to join churches, sports teams, or other groups. But the fact is, all Americans of every descent do the exact same thing. I remember having to bring my birth certificate with me to the YMCA summer camp. That’s why I have five, because we always needed duplicates for school, camp, even field trips!
Organized crime is likely involved in selling “tripletas,” consisting of a birth certificate, a Social Security card, and a driver’s license. Similarly, in criminal hacking communities, full sets of identifying information that can be used to steal an identity are packaged as “fullz” and sold for less than $100.
Victims face damaged credit, criminal records, and years of credit restoration. The time spent restoring one’s identity can potentially result in thousands of dollars in lost wages.
One victim, a 32-year-old married father of two whose credit has been ruined, told the AP that local authorities were dismissive: “They told me, ‘There are cases more important than that little case.’”
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