New E-Verify Security Enhancement Permits USCIS to Lock Social Security Numbers

Love it or hate it, the Department of Homeland Security’s E-Verify Program, which enables employers to verify employment eligibility of new employees electronically, is likely here to stay. Since its introduction in 2008, a major concern with E-Verify was the fact that the program was not able to catch an employee’s fraudulent use of another person’s name and social security number (SSN), enabling employees and employers alike to circumnavigate immigration laws by using or overlooking the common issue of identity theft. In the past, as long as the SSN provided by an employee matched the employees name and other personal information, E-Verify confirmed the information as valid and the employee was authorized to work, with no way of determining if the SSN was fraudulently obtained.

With hopes to remedy this flaw in the system, Director of the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS), Alejandro Mayorkas released a statement introducing new security enhancements to the E-Verify program. According to Director Mayorkas, these enhancements will help curb identity theft and falsely obtained employment authorization by detecting and preventing the fraudulent use of SSNs for work authorization.

This new safeguard enables USCIS to “lock” SSNs that appear to have been stolen or fraudulently obtained. Using algorithms and detection reports and analysis, USCIS will track SSN usage patterns in order to track and detect suspicious pattern usage. If it appears that an SSN is being used fraudulently, USCIS will lock that SSN and prevent further usage of that SSN until the issue is resolved. For instance, if an SSN is used to obtain employment in California one day and then used the very next day to obtain employment in New York, the SSN would be locked from usage to obtain work authorization. If an employee attempts to gain work authorization using that locked SSN, the employee will receive a Tentative Nonconfirmation (TNC). A TNC does not automatically mean the employee is not authorized to work in the United States. However, in that situation, the employee may contest the lock at a local Social Security Administration (SSA) field office. If the field officer finds that the employee’s identity matches the SSN, the field officer will change the TNC to “Employment Authorized” status with E-verify. Director Mayorkas explained that this is similar to how credit card companies will lock a credit card if suspicious activity is detected.

As with the introduction of any new procedure or program, it is likely that this new security enhancement will have several bugs to be worked out. For instance, anyone who has ever had their credit card locked knows that the algorithms used to track usage patterns are often inaccurate, resulting in credit cards be locked simply because of travel or large or unusual purchases. Similarly, this security enhancement may result in several employees with valid identity information to have their SSNs locked as a result of possibly suspicious usage patterns. While not severely detrimental, having your SSN locked can be very frustrating and time consuming. On the other hand, it could be a very useful tool for individuals who have unwittingly had their identities stolen. For now, one can only speculate on the outcome of the new enhancements. It remains to be seen what the full effect will be. If you have experienced the effects of USCIS’ new ability to lock SSNs, please share your story with us.