Is applying for a credit card with fake SSN a crime?

I have heard from a few undocumented aliens wanting to find out how come so many illegal immigrants have fraudulent Social Security numbers with which they have opened bank accounts, credit cards, received car and home loans, and needless to say, worked and filed taxes (while also receiving refunds from the IRS).  Can they do it?  What problems does it pose?  What penalties are there, if any, because so many of these unauthorized immigrants seem to have perfectly normal lives?

So let us first talk about having a false SS# with respect to United States laws, whether it is completely phony (that is a number pulled out of a hat by crooks who sell forged documents online or in immigrant neighborhoods) or belongs to dead individual or a child or belongs to another individual who has either allowed you to use that number (you can not legally allow someone to use your SSN but you can definitely say that you will not report that as a crime) or you have simply decided to use that number and this person has not yet realized that he is a victim of identity theft.  Because laws are tricky and complex, what you may want to know is that identity theft in general is a felony, but the courts have sometimes interpreted it to say that if the victim is not harmed, the criminal need not be punished too harshly.  Having said that, as a matter of law, using a Social Security number that has not been legally assigned to you by the United States Social Security Administration is considered a criminal action.  Similarly, abuse of the number, for example, working without authorization, is also criminal.

But what about bank accounts, credit cards, car/home loans?  Good question.  You see, the banks in America are private businesses and can have their own set of requirements.  Actually, many financial institutions actively seek business of illegal immigrants and have allowed them to show their IDs from their native countries to do business with them.  Many of them do not even ask if you are in the country legally or don't care if you are by simply taking that information into consideration (for instance, if they ask you about your immigration status and you honestly report your unlawful presence, they might still grant you a loan, they might just charge you a higher interest rate or ask for a collateral or insist on a co-signor who is a legal resident).  For the same reason, the credit bureaus might start tracking your credit history either with your made up number or actually assign you a number by associating it with your address and name (the credit bureaus have zero interest in your legal status or SSN; they merely want to collect as much data as they can on an individual and will use a variety of identifying information -- remember they want to sell this data to other corporations and get paid for it). 

So does it mean that it is legal to use a false SS# to apply for credit?  Well, legally, no.  Generally speaking, using a fraudulent document or even providing false information to anyone (including an individual; so providing false information to a landlord can come to bite you) can be used against you.  In any case, in all business transactions like this, you will be signing a lot of papers in which you will agree to provide only truthful information and if you do not, they can drag you to court.  In reality, though, if a bank knowingly takes your false information, starts a banking relationship with you, and you meet your end of the bargain (for example, you pay back all the money you owe according to the terms of the contract), most likely nothing will happen.  The banks simply want their money back; they don't care that you provided false information.  However, if something goes wrong, then, in addition to suing you for all kinds of things, they will also include a charge that you provided false information or lied or used fraudulent documents.  That can get ugly.  So should you still do it?  Not if you want to follow the law.

Why is my DACA application transferred to local USCIS office?

Several DACA applicants are reporting that either they have been notified by the USCIS or they have noticed that online that their application, after waiting for 90 days for approval, or even worse six months in some cases, have been transferred to the USCIS field office.  They have been told there is nothing else for them to do and to wait for further instructions from the agency.  Exactly; like in most matters dealing with USCIS, it is best to wait.  Calling them or trying to contact a politician to influence the process is a waste of time.  The process has to take its course and it is better to just wait; you also need not worry that somehow your application will be delayed or denied or something else will go wrong (the right way to think about it is that if you have done nothing wrong and your application deserves to be approved, then, it will be; on the other hand if you do not deserve to be approved, even if it is not transferred to a local office, it will still be denied).  But why would the case be transferred?

It is not just DACA cases that are transferred to field offices; all sorts of application, including Adjustment of Status or AOS (application to receive a green card or permanent residency) and naturalization, are typically sent to local offices.  The reasons are many:

  1. USCIS made a mistake or you made a mistake and the application has now been sent to the right place.
  2. Personnel changes within USCIS prompting transfer of work to wherever it can be done faster.
  3. Redistribution of work between different offices when some offices get more workload while other offices have less work.
  4. The applicant files form AR-11 for change of address and that necessitates moving the case.
  5. Something popped up during the decision making process that requires the case to be handled locally.  Since local offices are much closer to the applicant's residence and/or employment and the agency has better relationship with the local law enforcement and businesses, it is much easier for the field office to handle such matters.  It is not unusual for USCIS to make phone calls to police, employers, landlords, school/university, churches, etc. to conduct their investigation as part of background check.  In rare cases, even a visit by a USCIS officer may be made to a police office or employer.
  6. While DACA cases are being handled without personal interviews, in other immigration petitions, it is generally a sign that the applicant will be directed to appear in person and provide original documentation in support of the case.

Consequences of masking SSN on W-2

I have always believed that providing paystubs with fake Social Security numbers to the USCIS as proof of being in the United States is entering slippery slope for illegal immigrants.  By doing so, not only have you admitted working without authorization, you have also provided solid evidence to the prosecutors in case the Government decides to prosecute you.  Regardless of the justification that you might have in your head for working illegally, as far as US laws are concerned, it is a crime.  Only if the Obama Amnesty passes forgiving these criminal actions can you be sure that your unauthorized employment will not come to haunt you.

Obviously, worse than working without papers is hiding the information from the authorities.  It is US law for you to report all your income -- even illegal -- to the Internal Revenue Service by filing a tax return.  And as some undocumented aliens have been discussing online in forums, you cannot hide the false Social Security number on a W-2 while submitting it as evidence to the USCIS.  That will clearly count as forgery and submission of fraudulent documents, both of which are crimes.  These might also be grounds for rejection of your DACA application.

Along the same lines, the online chatter to hide the pink stripe on the North Caroline drivers license is also a crime.  Not only will a cop put you in serious trouble for doing that, even showing a doctored license like that will raise suspicion when you want to order alcohol or board a plane.

Consequences of working with ITIN or fake Social after getting valid SSN

Since most DACA recipients are unable to update their Social Security numbers at their current place of work, they are continuing to work with whatever false information they provided to their employer when they first took that job.  This is clearly violation of what the United States government expects of immigrants who have been grant legal immigrant status of any kind.  Indeed, it is fact that SSN can almost never be changed and remains the same your whole life, the right path forward for anyone who used a phony number before is to start over.  This means that you may have to quit your current job and say goodbye to whatever other benefits you received from stealing an identity.  Continuing to use your ITIN or stolen SS# after you have received a genuine number is violation of the terms of agreement you agreed to when you applied for DACA.

Use of more than one Social Security number is a crime:  It is already known that it is technically impossible to file proper taxes if you have more than one identity (in other words, more than one identifying number like SSN) and by holding on to a fake number while having a real number is going to not only things very messy going forward, but you will still be breaking a series of United States fraud laws.  When the American government grants you a status in the country, it holds you to a much higher standard, expecting that you will have respect for US laws and you will follow them, and not ignore them just because your chances of being caught are minimal.  By not using your valid number, you are violating US laws but also causing financial self-harm.  Remember that the payroll taxes you are contributing to a fake SS# will never be given to you.  On the other hand if you work using your genuine identity, you will build a safety net.

Can you be caught?  Since the government is not actively pursuing this crime, unless you get into another legal trip, you will go scot-free, but this information can be found at the time of applying for permanent status or naturalization.  At the time of applying for US citizenship, it can be definitely used against you as it will be indicator that you are not a person with a good moral character.  That is why my recommendation will be to stop using your fraudulent identity immediately after a new number is received and start a fresh life with the new number. 

DACA approval pending for more than 6 months

We have now reached a point that some DREAMers who applied in August 2012 when the DACA program was first launched are still waiting for approval.  It must be pointed out that the average approval time ranges from one to three months.  I have already highlighted why DACA approval maybe taking too long for some applicants, but this is the right time to revisit the issue. The main reason some of the DREAMers are getting impatient with the approval process is that so many of their peers were approved so quickly.  The reason some of the approvals came so quickly is that President Obama made the process really simple and ignored all fraudulent activities, like working with fake papers.  So if you are one of those unfortunate victims of delay by the USCIS, you may want to think of the following:
  1. Delays of this nature are fairly routine at the USCIS.  In almost all visa categories, there are some cases that take a lot longer even though the applicant may believe that his or her case is so straightforward.
  2. The immigration process is only managed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), or more specifically United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), but there are several other government and non-government (including private; yes, your tamper proof green cards and EAD cards are manufactured by private contractors) agencies involved.  So for instance, to do a background check, the file will be passed on the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and till the file comes back, nothing will happen (though there are some mechanisms built in for following up after some time has passed).  If the FBI comes up with a question about your background and forwards a query to a local police department or judicial office, that could take weeks or months.  In the meantime if USCIS prods the FBI, they can simply respond that they are awaiting some data from a field office or AnyTown police department (remember that police departments in towns and cities are independent and do not get paid by the FBI for providing such information; many of them are operating under tight budgets or part-time staff and they really have no incentive to move fast to find information on an illegal immigrant who was given a citation for driving without a license or beating up his friend).

  3. You have not told the whole truth in your application.  It is very tempting to think that you can hide information from the USCIS because you wonder if they can really find something or you have heard stories of how some immigrant literally got away with murder and is now a citizen, but it is also a fact that a large number of applicants are caught if they fail to provide complete details.  And nothing ticks off a government agent than a liar.
  4. You may not know the whole truth yourself.  Many DREAMers are not fully aware of how they actually came to the United States, what laws their parents and family members broke, and how some of the details are missing.  It is particularly tricky if the parents are dead and the secrets were buried with them.
  5. Indeed, it is true that the Obama Administration is deliberately ignoring unlawful employment and identity theft, but it does not mean that the officers are ignoring all criminal actions.  So you may have not thought too much about lying or using forged documents or failing to follow the law -- everyone does it, you argued -- but it would be a problem for a Federal agent to ignore your actions which are clearly crimes under current law.  Such applications will be scrutinized more closely and while you maybe wondering that it is just a processing delay, do not be surprised that the Feds are building a case for your arrest and deportation.