Recently I was in the meeting of creditors room on cases assigned to Riverside Chapter 7 Trustee Todd Frealy. The morning calendar started and several cases were heard with no problems. Then a series of spanish speaking debtors appeared and the hearings had to be done in Spanish. As you may know, an interpreter is provided to any debtor that requests one. This is done free of charge by the US government. Over 170 languages are available as the translators appear by telephone. The most common language requested is Spanish. ( If your client required a sign language interpreter, this must be done ahead of time and a request must be made to the US Trustee’s office. i have been told it takes 6-8 weeks to schedule such an interpreter.)
Today we were proceeding through a few Spanish speaking cases and then the representative from the US Trustee’s office appeared and took special interest in two cases. These two cases were debtors that had filed bankruptcy, but for Social Security numbers they used Taxpayer Identification numbers. These T.I.N. numbers are issued by the Treasury Department on white and green cards and start with the “9” digit. According to the Chapter 7 Trustee’s manual, these T.I.N. numbers are valid and can be used in lieu of a Social Security number.
The problem for these two debtors was that in addition to the T.I.N. numbers they had, they had also used a false Social Security number. The debtor’s attorney had not hide this fact, but had the debtors sign a declaration that they filed with the petition.
The US Trustee’s staff attorney was now questioning the debtors about these false social security numbers. When did they obtain the numbers? What did the use the numbers for? What type of credit was obtained by the numbers? The staff attorney was taking this information down. I do not know what the US Trustee will do with the information, but more than likely it will be used to file a fraud complaint against the debtor or the information will be turned over to the US Attorney for possible prosecution.
The teaching point here is that while it is permissible to file a bankruptcy case with a T.I.N. number, this leads to the Chapter 7 Trustee and US Trustee asking if a false Social Security number has been used in the past. This inquiry leads to a whole set of questions which may open your client to criminal or civil prosecution.
Practice Pointer: If you find your client has used a false Social Security number, it is your duty to counsel him about the severe adverse consequences that potentially await him if he files for bankruptcy. Your unsuspecting client may have to answer to the US Trustee and the US Attorney General.
Second Practice Pointer: if your client is hearing impaired, contact the local US Trustee’s office upon filing to schedule a sign language interpreter. Due to budget cut backs, the US Trustee must get approval before assigning an interpreter. This could take several weeks and this may cause you to miss the meeting of creditors. Call the US Trustee’s office as soon as you know the date and time of the hearing.