Illegal immigrants turning to ID theft to evade tougher scrutiny

(FOX 25 / – Raquel Souza remembers how much her father’s girlfriend looked like her father’s former wife – her mother – right down to the haircut.

“I remember coming to see my dad and having looked at her and thinking, ‘Wow, she kind of looks like my mom,'” Souza said.

It turned out the woman wasn’t just looking like Raquel Souza’s mother. She had, on paper, become the same person as Raquel Souza’s mother, turning herself from an illegal immigrant from Brazil into Souza’s mother, a legal Brazilian immigrant with a valid Social Security number.

That case of identity fraud is taking years for the victim to try and untangle because the phony Sonia Souza started a cleaning company, opened credit cards, and bank accounts and bought vehicles.

The woman who assumed her identity was also called Sonia, but her real last name was Nardino, and she was even able to obtain a Massachusetts driver’s license under her assumed name -Sonia Souza.

“She wanted to be in the United States and work and make money but she could never do it being here illegally and not having a Social Security number, so she found the opportunity and took it,” Raquel Souza said.

However, she couldn’t keep the opportunity forever. By the time FOX Undercover showed up at Nardino’s Lowell apartment, she had been arrested and detained by immigration authorities, and she was later deported. Her husband, Timothy Quinn, was there. He had a different version of events.

Quinn says his wife purchased the identity from a relative so she could enter the country, but stopped using it several years ago.

“My understanding is my wife did not steal this woman’s identity,” Quinn told FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet “My understanding is she sold it” to the “real” Sonia (Souza) Robinson.

The real Sonia Souza, who has since remarried and changed her last name to Robinson, denies selling her own identity. However it happened, it’s just one example of a growing trend of ID theft among illegal immigrants trying to live and work in the United States.

“It’s a huge issue, and we have only really seen the tip of the iceberg,” said Jessica Vaughan with the Center for Immigration Studies.

Vaughan says identity theft is on the rise thanks in part to a government program called e-Verify that’s supposed to stop illegal immigrants from being hired.

“People actually need to find a bona fide Social Security number instead of a fake one. Something like 1 in 3 new hires now is screened through e-Verify. So it’s much harder to just make up a Social Security number or green card number and expect that you’re actually going to get through the screening process,” Vaughan said.

The government could take additional steps to verify identity, but Vaughan says the cooperation just isn’t there.

“The federal government and even state government do have the authority to try to crack down on this to protect the real owners of those numbers, but I haven’t seen very much activity in that area, certainly not here in Massachusetts,” she said.

One Massachusetts official, Registrar of Motor Vehicles Rachel Kaprielian, acknowledged ID theft is a “growing problem” but said, “We in Massachusetts are really as cutting edge as one can get.”

The Registry of Motor Vehicles uses facial recognition software and other methods to stop the great majority of ID thieves, Kaprielian said. But she admits staffing at the RMV’s enforcement bureau has been cut, and technology can’t catch everything.

One thing that would help states like Massachusetts crack down on ID fraud is to make sure registries in different states are sharing information so they would know if two different people have applied for a license under one person’s name and Social Security number. That’s one of the goal’s of the federal REAL ID Act of 2005, but Kaprielian says Massachusetts and most other states haven’t met all the law’s goals.

In the case of the two Sonias, one was able to get a driver’s license in the other’s name because the real Sonia Souza had never applied for a Massachusetts driver’s license, Kaprielian said.

“Is it potentially easy for a case like that to slip through the system?” Beaudet asked her.

“When you have legitimate documents and you don’t have a different image by which to judge the difference, than (it can be),” Kaprielian replied.

Raquel Souza and her mother are left wondering how it was so easy.

“She registered her firm in a day, she bought a car in a day,” Raquel Souza said. “My mom has been like two-and-a-half years trying to prove that someone else is living as her and I think that is just ridiculous.”

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