ID Theft Takes Financial, Emotional Toll On Garner Couple
Posted February 9, 2005 6:23 a.m. EST
RALEIGH, N.C. — Some victims of identity theft said they found a system of debt collection that treats them as guilty until proven innocent. They are so tired of trying to prove their case that they are ready to give up.
Nancy and Gene Turner of Garner recall a personal nightmare. Nearly two years after paying off credit cards, they learned ID thieves were living off their reopened accounts, running up about $45,000 in debt. Threatening collectors called the Turners at home and at work.
"He was getting ready to fax a notice to my human resources department, so they could begin garnishing my wages," Gene said.
"He was very rude. [He] wouldn't even listen to the facts," Nancy said.
The Turners were overwhelmed by letters warning of liens on their home if they did not pay. They followed the attorney general's advice on how to deal with ID theft and filed a police report, but nothing worked.
"We were on our own. Pretty much hung out to dry," Gene said.
Long before the Turners realized, the bad debt was sold off from collection agency to collection agency. Collectors cared more about getting paid than listening to the Turners' story of ID theft.
"It's like a hydra. When you cut off one head, 12 grow back," bankruptcy attorney Victoria Wright said.
Wright said recently enacted consumer protection laws get overlooked.
"The person who buys the debt is supposed to care and is supposed to look at those things, but again you're talking about millions and millions of transactions per year. It's hard to enforce," she said.
"We've been hounded for almost two years for a crime we didn't commit. This is nothing we did wrong, and where's the justice?" Gene said.
The last straw for the Turners came when a sheriff's deputy delivered a civil summons the day after Thanksgiving. Stressed and exhausted, the Turners said they are now seriously considering bankruptcy.
"Part of me is ashamed, not because we did anything wrong, there's a stigma," Nancy said.
The thieves who took advantage of the Turners have not been caught. Looking back, the one thing the Turners wish they had done was check their credit report to detect the fraud before it got out of control.
Some consumer advocates are now calling for a national clearinghouse to help verify and resolve identity theft problems. Creditors tend to be skeptical of theft unless a case is easily proven.