Mistaken identity can ruin your credit and affect your chances of getting a job or a loan. It can take years to clean up the mess.
Mark Smith has been fighting a child support claim for more than eight months, and he does not have any children.
Imagine his surprise when he received letters fromWake Countysaying he owed tens of thousands of dollars in child support.
"I was very shocked at first, and then that shock turned to concern when I thought how this could spiral out of control," said Smith.
Smith, who works full-time and goes toN.C. State, called and wrote to Wake County. He assumed it was his common name which caused the mix-up.
There are 184 people named Mark Smith listed in North Carolina telephone directories.
Rhonda Little worked for the state inChild Support Enforcementfor five years. Now she works in the private sector to help people get their money.
She says child support agencies do not always handle problems efficiently.
"Most of the time, I found there was a lot more energy put into avoiding the issue rather than working toward resolution," said Little.
But there is also another problem. Caseworkers in Wake County handle, on average, 600 cases at one time. A recent study recommends that this number be dramatically reduced so that they can do their jobs better.
"I don't think there's anything sinister about it. It is volume of information and a little lack of listening when the issue is brought forth," said Little.
Wake County Child Support Enforcement has corrected the problem with Smith's case. They say it was simply a clerical mix-up.