ID theft turns job search into nightmare
Mike Sakal, Tribune
September 17, 2009 - 8:43PM
Paperwork from the Arizona Department of Economic Security shows Michael Meacham of Phoenix working at numerous places. An illegal immigrant was arrested on suspicion of using Meacham's information to obtain a job at Wal-Mart.
Tim Hacker, TribuneWhen Michael Meacham began looking for a job after being laid off from a gas station in April, he had no idea of the nightmare ahead of him.
Applying to dozens of places without success, Meacham said he completed an online application at Wal-Mart early last month.
But when he submitted his Social Security number, the retailer's employee database listed the 21-year-old student as already working there.
"I was shocked," Meacham said. "At first, I thought I was hired without knowing it, but when I saw I had a schedule and was working, I was confused."
Meacham would later learn that the Arizona Department of Economic Security would list him as being employed at eight different places between April 2008 and January 2009 — including six places where he’s never worked. Throughout the ordeal, Meacham was denied unemployment compensation because DES believed he was working.
But Meacham's findings helped lead Mesa police to the arrest of Jorge Armondo Rodriguez, 30, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who was living in Mesa, on suspicion of identity theft. Rodriguez admitted to police he was using Meacham's Social Security number for employment purposes and to make money for his family.
"There's a lot of holes to jump through and go around," said Meacham, a Phoenix College student. "This has been strenuous and stressful to say the least."
Rodriguez had been working at the Wal-Mart at Mesa Riverview, 857 N. Dobson Road, for about a year using Meacham's Social Security number, according to a Mesa police report.
When Meacham applied for unemployment compensation through the DES the same day he applied at Wal-Mart, his DES report also listed him as working at the Wal-Mart - and five other places he said he never has: Paradise Bakery, Rallys, Jack in the Box, Frontera Communications and the International House of Pancakes.
"The report shows I made a lot of money, but that was not the case," Meacham said. "I last worked as a counselor at a Cub Scout camp in Payson in June. That money lasted me through the summer, and I started looking for jobs again at the beginning of August."
After learning from a Wal-Mart manager in Phoenix that the employee database showed him working at the Wal-Mart at Mesa Riverview, Meacham went to that store to inform them he did not work there. That store manager then told Meacham to call Mesa police.
After police questioned Rodriguez at Wal-Mart the first time, he had introduced himself as Michael, but then told officers his real name. Police later arrested Rodriguez at the Cracker Barrel restaurant, 1007 N. Dobson Road, about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Rodriguez told officers that Meacham was letting him use his card, and when officers asked him to describe Meacham, he told them that he was a 21-year-old Hispanic man. Meacham is white.
Meacham, who was reissued the same Social Security number last month, remains unemployed, and he told the Tribune on Thursday that the DES has denied him unemployment compensation until he can provide proof that it was not him working at Wal-Mart and to show that he was being proactive to do something to correct the problem.
A representative from the Department of Economic Security could not be reached for comment and did not return phone calls to the Tribune Thursday seeking comment.
Meacham also placed a six-month freeze on his credit while he hopes authorities such as the DES, the Social Security Administration, and Mesa police sort everything out.