The Social Security Administration (SSA) sent approximately 75,000 letters this month to companies throughout the United States telling them that they had reported invalid employee social security numbers. About 30% or 22,500 of the letters were sent to employers in California. As a comparison, SSA sent about 11,000 such letters to employers in the year 2001.
Employers are required to submit wage reports to SSA for their employees on a periodic basis. The letters contain the employees’ names and social security numbers. The SSA cross checks the names and social security numbers to confirm that they match the information contained in their own records. When they do not match, the SSA sends this information to its electronic “lost and found”. Up until recently, the SSA has not done much more than that about the mismatches. However, there is currently a push to resolve the inconsistencies. Thus, the increase in warning letters to employers. Employers have sought advice from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber is recommending that the companies seek legal counsel.
The immigrant advocate community is worried that undocumented workers using false social security cards could lose their jobs. This fear is based upon the concern expressed by employers that the letters from the SSA could bring greater scrutiny from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
It may take up to 18 months for the IRS to receive information on the mismatched names and numbers. However once the IRS receives that information, they can fine companies $50 per incorrect name. In order to impose the fine, the IRS must prove that the employer intended to provide incorrect information.
Employers are subject to sanctions from the INS if they hire an alien who does not have INS employment authorization. The penalty can range from $275 to $2,000 for each alien for the first offense. For the second offense, the fine can range from $2,200 to $4,400 per alien. For the third or higher offense, the fine can range from $3,300 to $11,000 per alien. These fines do not include penalties for failure to fill out and maintain I-9’s (Verification Form). Those penalties can range from $110 to $1,100 for each I-9. The Attorney General is also authorized to file a suit in U.S. District Court to seek enforcement of the paperwork requirements.
Additionally, it is a criminal offense, carrying a penalty of up to 5 years imprisonment under 8 U.S.C. 1324a(a)(3)(4), for any person during a 12 month period to knowingly hire for employment at least 10 individuals with actual knowledge that the individuals are not authorized to work and were brought to the U.S. illegally.
Any worker who is using a social security number that they did not get from the SSA or any employer who receives an inquiry letter from the SSA should seek legal advice from an attorney.