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 even commit. Identity thieves may perpetrate crimes while masking their true identities with the names of their victim, which may result in the wrong person imprisoned. South Florida 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 phenomena of identity theft victims spending time in jail for crimes caused by someone is occurring more frequently.
Nearly 7 percent of Americans who were 16 years old or older were victims of identity theft in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. The BJS said 85 percent of identity theft cases included fraudulent activity using credit card or bank account information.
Identity Theft Victims Must Cope with 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 BLS said.
When victims try to clear their name, they can also run into obstacles, which can result in financial costs to the victims that may take time to resolve. The BLS 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 often wait longer than that. The BLS 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.
Brett Montgomery is a fraud operations manager at IDentity Theft 911.