AlamyBy Brett Montgomery
When ordinary people become victims of identity theft, the legal repercussions can be enormous. To make matters worse, some victims not only have to deal with financial fraud but also face the risk of being jailed for crimes they didn’t commit.
Identity thieves may perpetrate crimes while masking their true identities with the names of their victims, which may result in the wrong person becoming imprisoned. Kissimmee, Fla., resident Erie Salgado has been worried about being arrested ever since his identity was taken a decade ago in Puerto Rico, ABC affiliate WFTV in Orlando reported.
Since then, Salgado has been suspected of being a Massachusetts-based cocaine dealer and also went to jail for the identity mix-up last fall. After Salgado spent days trying to convince law enforce authorities they had the wrong guy before he was released from jail, Sheriff Wayne Ivey gave Salgado an apology. Ivey said that the phenomenon of identity theft victims spending time in jail for crimes caused by someone else is occurring more frequently.
In 2013, 13.1 million Americans became victims of identity theft, according to a recent Javelin report.
Financial, Legal Impacts
After Salgado’s identity theft incident, his wife, Betsy, said the criminal actions of the identity thief has resulted in her husband’s credit being damaged, which is a common effect of having unauthorized persons open new lines of credit without victims’ permission.
“Victims who had personal information used to open a new account or for other fraudulent purposes were more likely than victims of existing account fraud to experience financial, credit and relationship problems and severe emotional distress,” the Bureau of Justice Statistics said in a recent report.
When victims try to clear their names, they can also run into obstacles, which can result in financial costs to the victims that may take time to resolve. The bureau said more than half of identity theft victims were able to prevent problems from escalating in a day or less. But some victims who had their personal information stolen wait much longer than that. The bureau survey showed 29 percent of victims waited a month or more before they were able to resolve issues concerning their identity. For Salgado, his problem has continued for almost a decade — and counting.
In acknowledging the growing problem of identity theft and in an effort to help victims, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement created a program to reinforce victims’ claims of stolen identities if asked by police officers.
If you’re worried about becoming a victim of identity theft, you should monitor your bank and credit card accounts for any suspicious charges. Also, you can use a free tool like the Credit Report Card to monitor your credit scores every month. Any unexpected change in your credit score could signal identity theft and you should pull your credit reports to make sure you haven’t become a victim.
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