ACLU Urges Michigan State Police to Stop Re-victimizing Identity Theft Victims

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
January 19, 2005 12:00 am

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DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and Western Michigan Legal Services (WMLS) today urged the state attorney general to stop re-victimizing victims of identity theft.

According to the groups, background check information on victims of identity theft, which is provided by the Michigan State Police to employers, landlords and the general public, also includes the criminal convictions of the individual who stole his or her identity.

“These people suffer more than their loss of identity – they have ended up with someone else’s criminal record simply because the system is inadequate,” said Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director. “Innocent people are being wrongfully charged or detained by the police, losing jobs and apartments, and being denied access to government benefits like public housing based on criminal records that don’t belong to them.”

In a letter to the attorney general’s office, the ACLU and WMLS state that the Michigan State Police not only disseminate name-based name-based criminal records that contain mistaken identity convictions, but have, so far, refused to remove such convictions from the individual’s record even after the individual proves that his or her fingerprints do not match those of the impostor.

The letter urges the state to make several changes in the way it reports criminal backgrounds of identity theft victims. Many of the suggested changes –such as a simple administrative process for removing mistaken identity convictions from the victim’s record — have been successfully adopted in other states.

“What we are asking for is really quite simple,” said WMLS attorney Miriam Aukerman. “People should not have criminal records for crimes they did not commit. If an identity theft victim can prove through a fingerprint check that a criminal conviction belongs to someone else, it needs to come off of the victim’s record.”

The ACLU and WMLS illustrated the cases of two its clients to advocate for a change in the system.

James Clark, a licensed architect working for the state of Michigan, discovered that he had a criminal record when he sought to teach an evening yoga class at a YMCA branch in Lowell. In response to a routine background check, the state police sent the YMCA records showing that check showed that Clark had 14 convictions, including breaking and entering, larceny from a motor vehicle, burglary, credit card theft, retail fraud, and assault with a dangerous weapon. Although Clark has never been convicted of a single crime, the YMCA refused to hire him based on the record, which actually belongs to an impostor who is of a different race and has a different birth date than the real James Clark.

In a separate case, Iris Frazier has been trying to correct her own record since the mid-1990s when her identity was stolen by her sister. As a result, a background check on Frazier incorrectly lists nine convictions, including prostitution, larceny, possession of controlled substances, and retail fraud. Frazier said she has lost numerous job opportunities, has been detained at the United States border, and was denied public assistance benefits because of the erroneous criminal record. After seeking legal assistance, Frazier eventually gained employment when a prospective employer agreed to do a fingerprint check.

“We believe that the experiences of our clients are representative of a much larger problem,” said Aukerman, who represents Frazier and several other individuals who have inaccurate criminal records. “People who have been victims of identity theft or have friends or family members who might have used their name when arrested, as well as people who have common names, should check their criminal record because they might be surprised at what they find.”

According to a report prepared for the Federal Trade Commission, an estimated four percent of the nation’s ten million identity theft victims — or 400,000 Americans — have inaccuracies on their criminal records as a result of identity theft.

“While there is litigation on this issue in other states, we hope that this can be resolved in Michigan without resorting to the courts,” said ACLU of Michigan Legal Director Michael Steinberg, who represents Clark. “The system is fundamentally flawed and nobody benefits from re-victimizing victims of identity fraud.”

Read the letter at:

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