Stranger steals I.D. of grieving couple's dead baby

Stranger steals I.D. of grieving couple's dead baby »Play Video
Little Ava
BLAINE, Wash. - A local couple is outraged after finding out their daughter is being claimed as a tax write-off by a total stranger.

Adding insult to injury - the baby is dead. The Whatcom County couple is still grieving.

They contacted the Problem Solvers after the Internal Revenue Service rejected their electronic tax return. Jessica Struthers says she feels violated.

"Because this is our daughter that has passed away," she said, fighting back tears.

Last August, her 21-month-old daughter Ava drowned in the family's above-ground swimming pool in Blaine. The toddler's death made headlines, and left a huge wound for the couple and their two other children.

That wound was torn open when father Matt Bock filed his 2009 taxes - then got a call from the tax preparer.

"My return had been rejected, and that somebody else had claimed my daughter."

Matt says the stranger who claimed Ava, didn't just use her social security number - they also used her name and birthdate. But because of privacy laws, Matt could not get any information about the person who used his daughter's private information.

Child I.D. theft cases are turning up across the country. Social security numbers of children, including dead children, continue to be a hidden source of I.D. theft. According to the federal government a shocking number of claims filed for the First Time Home Buyer Tax Credit used social security numbers tied to kids.

Matt and Jessica are left to only guess who stole the identity of their Ava.

"Since she passed away, the only people who have access to her social security number were the hospital, the coroner and I believe the coroner forwarded over the information to the funeral home," said Matt.

Privacy rights not eternal

Unfortunately that may not be the case. I made a number of phone calls and discovered that any number of people may have had access to little Ava's information through public records. Turns out, when Ava died, her right to privacy died with her. As a matter of policy, your social security number is printed right on your death certificate.

"They used her death to their advantage," said Matt.

Still grieving from an unbearable loss, the couple must now prove that their dead baby was truly their child. The burden of proof is on them.

"And somebody took the last final straw of the end of the year - the closing of the year of her death. And, they took that from us," Jessica said, trying to fight back the tears.

Thanks to the help of a CPA in their community, the couple is now getting help with the paper filing process. As part of the investigation process, the IRS has received their return and is now waiting for them, and the other taxpayer, to provide documentation to help

Check your children's credit history

The Social Security Administration says you and only you should ever have your SSN. The numbers are not recycled. Once you die, they are retired for good.

Local Social Security Administration spokesman Mike Webb says upon death, the deceased's information is filed on official records which can be interfaced with banks, credit reporting agencies, state agencies and other organizations. By law, employers are supposed to verify the social security numbers of perspective employees.

But because I.D. theft continues to be a problem for all age groups, parents and guardians are urged to periodically check their children's social security earnings statements and credit reports.

If anything appears on either report, that's a red flag that someone has made an error, or someone is using the child's information illegally.

Family members should also check the credit reports and social security statements of older parents, as the elderly are also targeted.

If you find something out of order - report the discrepancy, file a report with your local police department, keep records of everything, and everyone you talk to, and be sure to file alerts with the credit reporting agencies and the Social Security Administration.

Helpful links:

www.idtheftcenter.org/artman2/publish/v_fact_sheets/fact_sheet_120.shtml

www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/

ssa-custhelp.ssa.gov/cgi-bin/ssa.cfg/php/enduser/std_adp.php?p_faqid=48&p_created=955474323

www.ssa.gov/oig/hotline/index.htm