KNOXVILLE (WATE) – A young Knoxville woman is fighting to get her disability check restored. It was taken away last month by the Social Security Administration after she says she became the victim of identity theft.
More than 17.5 million people were identity theft victims last year, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The vast majority of them, 8.5 million, were between the ages of 25 and 49, not senior citizens.
Jennifer Marban fought for years to get her disability benefits. The mother of three teenagers, who once worked as a Spanish interpreter, is totally disabled following complicated bowel and colon surgery four years ago. As a result, she rarely leaves her home.
“I can’t lift things. I can’t stand for a long time. My organs have balled up like a cantaloupe due to the mesh. I feel like I’m being ripped apart from every end,” said Marban.
She says it’s a struggle every day to provide for her girls, but her Social Security Disability helps make ends meet. With the help of an attorney who specializes in Social Security, she was awarded disability and insurance more than two and a half years ago. However last month, the $1,080 benefit check was taken away.
“If I don’t get a check next month, we will not be here”
“I no longer have any Social Security benefits. I was left without warning. I have no insurance anymore,” she said.
It’s possible someone hacked her computer, but however it happened, her identity was stolen. Marban says her present nightmare began 14 months ago when she received a troublesome notice from Social Security asking for her federal tax returns for the years 2011, 2012 and 2013.
“I didn’t know what to do because I’m not working. They would not listen to me. They wanted me to turn in my tax records and I said I hadn’t filed them.” said Marban.
Marban doesn’t have to file federal income taxes due to her disability and other qualifying factors. Social Security said in its letter that tax returns had been filed under her Social Security number.
She filed a police report in November 2014 with the Knoxville Police Department stating she had been a victim of identity theft. Then in April 2015, she began attending a series of hearings before an administrative judge at the Social Security office that lasted for several months.
“I explained that I wasn’t working. I thought it went well because I said I have to use great care to leave my house,” Marban said.
However, it didn’t go well. When she got a “notice of decision” from Social Security last month, it was unfavorable.
“If I don’t get a check next month, we will not be here. I use that to pay the rent, utilities, groceries,” she said.
Marban is scared for her family’s future and frustrated over the findings. The December 16, 2015, letter from Social Security claims Marban had been engaged in gainful employment for the last four years. Twelve days earlier, on December 4, the IRS said in a letter that Marban was, indeed, a victim of identity theft.
Apparently, one agency had not communicated quickly enough with the other.
“The judge jumped the gun without getting results from the IRS, you know when their investigation was done. All I think about is, how am I going to pay the bills for next month, where are we going to live? I just want my benefits reinstated. I just want to get my Social Security check returned and I want to have my Medicare insurance returned,” she said.
There is hope, however. Marban’s attorney says a hearing is set at Social Security on January 26 to possibly reopen the case.
Social Security has not responded to questions from WATE 6 On Your Side about Marban’s situation. She fears most that at that hearing later this month that Social Security will require her to start all over again proving she’s disabled and unable to work, a process that could take months or years to complete.