Tribal member catches Social Security snafu, alerts media

06.29.2011 Ron Karten People

Tribal member Veronica Gaston did the responsible thing recently after she received a surprise from the Social Security Administration.

Not only did Gaston receive a statement that she did not request, she received another person's statement that included the person's benefit amount and Social Security number.

Gaston, who lives in McMinnville and receives disability benefits from the government, said the mistake alarmed her, considering the rash of identity thefts occurring around the country that has already affected her.

Gaston said she had not requested a statement from the agency. But an envelope postmarked June 15 from the administration's teleservice center in Salinas, Calif., contained two pages of "information you requested" with an account of her monthly benefits.

The third page, however, contained a statement addressed to Dolores Gonzalez on behalf of Jahnait N. Verdin of Moreno Valley, Calif. Both statements contained the stamped signature of Martha N. Tatum, listed as an office manager.

"If it gets to the wrong person, you can kiss your identity goodbye," Gaston said about the mix-up. "I have their address, I have who the information is for and, more serious, I have their Social Security number."

Gaston said she called the administration, but no one cared to hear about the mistake. "When I contacted Social Security the first time, I got someone in California and they threatened to call the cops on me," she said.

Gonzalez, reached by Oregonian reporter Brent Hunsberger, said, "That's scary. I have no idea how that got to Oregon. That's how identity theft happens."

Gonzalez told The Oregonian that she had asked for a benefits statement from 2005 to show the Internal Revenue Service that Verdin, her hearing-impaired daughter, had not received benefits until 2007.

Mike Weber, a spokesman with the Social Security Administration in Seattle, said the agency is investigating but said the mistake is likely an isolated incident.

"We definitely make safeguarding PII (Personally Indentifying Information) a priority," he said. "We definitely want to take corrective action to make sure people feel confident that we are safeguarding their information."

Gaston, who informed The Oregonian about the incident, destroyed the original copy of Gonzalez' statement with the assistance of the McMinnville Police Department.

"I got to speak with Gonzalez and she said she was happy her information was sent to someone like me," Gaston said.

Includes information from The Oregonian and