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Social Security

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You ask the Social Security Administration for some confidential information about yourself and they send you that information plus documents about other people. Can you get in trouble if you don't do what the law requires? Or is there even a law that requires you to do something? It's why one woman called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

WSVN -- When Ana Veloz's spinal surgery went bad she was left in a wheelchair. Her young daughter Anais came to her rescue.

Ana Veloz: "My life just turned upside down. My daughter suffered a lot because I took my teenage hood away from her. She was my caretaker. She still continues to be my caretaker."

Ana can now walk but she can't work, leaving her on disability and recently asked the Social Security Administration to send her this letter confirming her disability payments.

Ana Veloz: "Showing how much I was awarded and how much my monthly payments will be as of that time frame for the rest of my life."

Ana got her confirmation letter that included all her confidential information and also...

Ana Veloz: "Somebody else's information. Social security information and their payments. Two different people, two different states. One in California and one in North Florida."

We have blocked out the last names, social security numbers and addresses of the two people but to show you how much information was sent to Ana.

Thea, in Reddick Florida is getting $771 a month and Christine in San Bernardino California is getting $1,031 a month.

Ana Veloz: "I can't imagine having this information sent to somebody that would make harm to these people. It's just scary, it's very scary."

Ana is honest of course and called the 1-800 number for the Social Security Administration to let them know what they had done.

Ana Veloz: "I said I am planning on forwarding this information to the two parties and she said, 'Please please don't do that.' And she said, 'Just destroy them or take them to the local office.'"

After Ana hung up, she wondered what she should do. Then her phone rang.

Ana Veloz: "And within 10 minutes, she called again and said can you please destroy the documents."

Ana then met with Howard and I.

Ana Veloz: "I don't feel comfortable destroying this information and these parties should be aware that their information has been sent to somebody else."

Ana wanted to let the two women know their confidential information had been sent to the wrong person and she wanted the people heading the Social Security Administration know what their employees had been done.

Ana Veloz: "I need Social Security Administration upper people to be aware that their employees are not being careful when they are doing research and separating documents and putting them in an envelope."

But Howard, legally what can you and can't you do when a government agency messes up and sends you information they shouldn't have?

Howard Finkelstein: "Legally you don't have to do anything with those letters. You can shred them or not shred them. You can return them or throw them in the garbage but what you can not do is use that information to hurt, embarrass or financially impact the person by making their confidential information public."

I contacted Maria Diaz, the spokesperson for the Social Security Administration in South Florida and gave her the names of the two people whose information had been sent to Ana.

Maria later told me this was an isolated incident. That the disability award letters must have gotten stuck together. That they will use this incident for training.

A social security official then called Ana and told her to bring the documents in. I suggested, since the social administration made the mistake, they should go pick up the documents themselves.

A few days later, two people who told me they were federal agents and asked us not to show their faces, came to get the two letters.

Ana Veloz: "I would think they would appreciate us giving those papers back to them."

Ana expected the Social Security Administration to be very thankful. She says, not exactly, but she says she did learn a lesson about everyone's confidential information.

Ana Veloz: "My message is that people have to be aware that our information is not really safe."

Patrick Fraser: "Howard told me if you get someone else's information like Ana got, never shred the documents because you then destroy the proof the government made a mistake. Howard also said, by law, the Social Security Administration has to notify the women that their confidential information was sent to Ana. The Social Security Administration told me they have done that.

Trusting a problem with go away and losing confidence? Wanna rip it to shreds? Contact us. Fortunately we don't have a disability but we have this ability to help people.

With this Help Me Howard, I'm Patrick Fraser, 7News.

CONTACT HELP ME HOWARD:

E-mail: helpmehoward@wsvn.com (please include your contact phone number when e-mailing)

Reporter: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com

Miami-Dade: 305-953-WSVN

Broward: 954-761-WSVN

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