You’re driving on road one night, then you notice there’s a police cruiser following close behind you. You figure the cop just wants to pass you, so you move over one lane, except he moves over too and stays on your tail, then you see the flashing red & blue lights then “Woooop!!! woohoo!!!” You must be wondering why you were pulled over. You weren’t speeding nor breaking any traffic laws and your tag is not expired. Maybe it’s just a burned-out taillight.
“Sir may I see your driver’s license and registration please.” Then comes the shocker! “SIR… step out of the vehicle.” You get patted down for weapons, drugs, etc… “You’re under arrest for outstanding warrants.” On go the handcuffs “You have the right to remain silent…” By now, you must be thinking “OH S—!!!”. “I’ve never been arrested in my life!” After you’ve been booked at the county jail, strip-searched, fingerprinted, and maybe spent the weekend in the slammer, you go before the judge only to find out you’re free to go, all charges dropped because it turns out you’re not the person they were looking for.
Is this a case of mistaken identity, or more likely, a case of STOLEN IDENTITY, or criminal identity fraud? The most common scenario is during a traffic citation or misdemeanor arrest, the imposter fraudulently provides to an officer-of-the-law somebody else’s identification, usually always that of a friend or relative, then skip town and simply does not pay the fine or fail to make the required court appearance. Unlike financial identity theft, the victim is usually always known to the imposter. The judge will then issue a warrant for his arrest.
In many cases, the imposter either stole or fraudulently acquired a phony driver’s license or other ID, or simply “borrowed” the victim’s name as an alias. The impostor is most often wanted on outstanding warrants for failure to appear. The victim is usually arrested during a routine traffic stop. This type of identity theft commonly occurs where the age and physical appearance of the two are similar. Police are tending to be much more cautious today to avoid false arrest lawsuits, but the system has a long way to go. Fortunately, unlike financial, criminal identity fraud is relatively rare.
In a few cases, serious offenses such as DUI and felonies were committed in the victim’s name and the person’s name ends up in the criminal database system. The victim might be in for a real shock when he is told he cannot buy a gun because he failed the instant background check, or is one day called into his boss’s office, to be informed he is being fired because a criminal record showed up in a routine employee background check. In the end, you probably wished this imposter were caught in Saudi Arabia where he would be sentenced to 100 lashes in the public square.
Unfortunately, the criminal justice system does not yet have a decent contingency plan in place to clear an innocent person’s name. The burden of clearing one’s name lies mostly with the accused, sometimes with steep attorney’s fees.
Procedures to clear your name from criminal databases vary according to state, or even individual counties. Some states already have special procedures in place for victims of criminal identity theft. Ask your state Attorney General’s office.
If wrongful criminal offenses are linked to your name, first contact the original arresting police/sheriff’s department who originally arrested the impostor, or else the court who issued the arrest warrant and file an impersonation report with them, and confirm your identity. Ask the police department to take your fingerprints, photograph you, and make official copies of your photo IDs, I.e.: driver’s license, passport, etc. To claim your innocence, ask the police to compare your fingerprints and photos with the imposters.
Maintain a detailed log of all your phone conversions, paperwork, email messages, contacts, etc. Keep a detailed record of all your expenses incurred. When writing the authorities you should always use certified mail with a return receipt. Email is generally not considered secure for sending confidential private information, so it’s not recommended if you can avoid it. The rule is never to send out something via email that would not want to share with the public. Changing your social security number is rarely recommended as that usually causes more problems than it solves.
If the arrest warrant is from another state or county, ask your local police dept. to forward your impersonation report to the agency of the jurisdiction where the arrest warrant, traffic citation, or criminal conviction originated.
The police/sheriff’s dept should recall any arrest warrants and issue you a clearance letter or certificate of release in the event you were arrested and booked. It’s essential to keep this document with you at all times in case you might be falsely arrested again. Have official copies made at the courthouse, in case it gets lost?
Ask the agency to file the record of the follow-up investigation establishing your innocence at the D.A’s office and/or the court in the jurisdiction where the crime occurred. This will result in an amended complaint. Unfortunately, once your name ends up in a criminal database, it’s difficult to get it completely removed. Ask that the key name or primary name be changed from yours to the imposter’s name, or else to “John Doe” if the imposter’s true identity is unknown, with your name noted as an alias.
You will also want to clear your name within the court records. Determine which state law(s) will help you with this and how. If your state has no formal procedure for clearing your record, contact the D.A.’s office in the county where the case was originally prosecuted. Ask the D.A.’s office for the appropriate court records needed to clear your name. Unfortunately in some situations, you may have no choice but to hire an attorney to help you clear your good name. You may want to ask your state DMV if your driver’s license was used by the imposter. Ask them to flag your files for possible fraud.