Welcome to America!

So you went to the interview and the long awaited immigrant visa is a reality; now you cannot wait to go and live the American dream that you have yearned for and fantasized about.    And why wouldn’t you when letters or, in today’s technologically advanced world, e-mails, Facebook posts and Twitter tweets show your friends and relatives living a life that proclaims that the grass is truly greener in America.  Fancy clothes, pretty house and furniture, and fancy cars mesmerize you and deepen your anxious anticipation of finally coming to live in America.  However, as one who have been there (in the land of fantasy about life in America) and now living the reality I have to tell you that the reality of living in America is not synonymous with the utopian dream of living in America.

Living in America is complex.   First of all, when you land at your port of entry you are branded with a number (alien registration number) which identifies you as a legal alien resident (why the name ‘aliens’ only God knows). Then you have to get another number called the social security number apart from which you cannot ‘do a thing’ in America.  Everyone needs this number to survive and thrive in America; for instance, you need it for school, work and play.  If you want to enroll in school, get a job, buy a car, a house or furniture, you have to have the social security number.  Now heed this warning – social security numbers are to be guarded with your life.  Do not allow anyone know of this number unless they have to; and, even then, you have to really monitor how they use it.  If you let anyone who is not supposed to have this number get it (sometimes, sad to say, it is even your family,) they can steal your identity. Plainly speaking, they will pretend that they are you each time they use it and you will suffer the unpleasant consequences of their actions.  Let us explore this further.

Identity theft is a big business in America.  You – just coming to America and getting a new, clean social security number – are like a fresh prey for identity theft predators.  For instance, if someone somehow got your social security number, uses it then commits a crime, it may prove to be a ‘dawg nyam yuh suppa’  (for those who don’t  understand Jamaican patois, it translates to a ‘very bad blow’ for you) dilemma for you.  One day you might find yourself waking up to police beating down your door and coming to arrest you because the criminal is associated with that number and law enforcement thinks you are that person. Or one day you decided to apply for credit and are informed that you are not qualified because your credit is bad because someone used your number to apply for credit for consumer goods or services and created a bad credit history.  America is a credit nation and consumers (you and me) are judged on our credit history.   Here is another scenario to the identity theft issue.  A friend of mine had her handbag stolen at work; luckily it was found, but after checking her handbag she realized that her driver’s licence was stolen.  You would think that she got a lucky break because that was the only thing stolen; however, she was informed that a driver’s licence can also be used to steal identity.  What did she have to do?  Call her bank, close out her bank account, report the theft to the police, visit the local Department of Motor Vehicle (you get a new licence free of charge because it was a reported theft) as well as reporting the theft to the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov).  Identity theft is particularly proliferated during tax return season.  Many people are negatively affected when they discover that their social security number or those of their loved ones are used by others to file tax returns.  However, a visit to www.irs.gov (enter ‘identity theft’ in their search engine) should provide information on what to do if you find yourself a victim in this case.

Now the motive is not to scare you but to let you know of some of the realities that come with living in America.  It is not the promised land of milk and honey as we sometimes idolize it to be; and we need a good dose of reality to get our heads out of the illusionary dream.  There are facts that need to be known to successfully navigate living in America and every Jamaican coming to America should know of them to prevent the disillusionment and disappointment when the dream high crashes. There are some things your relatives and friends need to forewarn you about and identity theft is just one of them that somehow gets forgotten in the excitement of having you in America. Therefore, to prevent you eventually saying ‘how comes nobady warn mi bout dis,’ I hope to address some of these facts for your information with the hope that Jamaicans will be more informed thus prepared for coming to and living in America.  This article cannot truly cover the scope of the value of the social security card or identity theft; however, a visit to the official government website www.ssa.gov  provides information on social security numbers and identity theft through stolen social security numbers.  Click on the “Get or Replace a Social Security Card.’ It provides more information on identity theft and reporting a stolen card.  If I were you, I would also click on the Federal Trade Commission link provided under ‘reporting a stolen card.’  I hope you find this article enlightening; and until I write again – walk good and God bless!