Detroit – The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and Western Michigan Legal Services (WMLS) sent a letter today to the state Attorney General’s Office urging changes to a Michigan State Police practice that re-victimizes victims of identity theft.
Background check information is provided by the Michigan State Police to employers, landlords and the general public. But the information on a person who has been a victim of identity theft also includes the record of the convictions of the criminal 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."
The ACLU and WMLS letter states 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 imposter.
The letter urges the state to make several changes in the way it reports criminal backgrounds of identity theft victims system. 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 the conviction belongs to someone else, it needs to come off of the victim’s record.”
James Clark, a licensed architect working for the State of Michigan, discovered to his surprise that he had a criminal record when he sought to teach an evening yoga class at a YMCA branch in Lowell, Michigan. Although Clark has never been convicted of a crime, when the YMCA conducted a routine background check, the MSP sent records showing that check showed that Mr. Clark had fourteen convictions, including breaking and entering, larceny from a motor vehicle, burglary, credit card theft, retail fraud, and assault with a dangerous weapon. The YMCA refused to hire him based on the record sent by the MSP which actually belongs to a man who had used the name "James Clark," as an alias, but who is of a different race and has a different birth date than the real James Clark.
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, her criminal record incorrectly lists nine convictions, including prostitution, larceny, possession of controlled substances, and retail fraud.
Frazier has also lost numerous job opportunities, has had problems obtaining a child care license, and has been detained at the U.S. border. After being on welfare, she was finally able to get a job and began a training program. But the job offer was rescinded after a background check. The mix-up with the criminal record then caused her to lose public assistance benefits. It was only with legal assistance that Ms. Frazier got her benefits restored until the employer agreed to do a fingerprint check proving that Ms. Frazier was not the criminal that her record made her out to be and she was eventually hired.
“We believe that the experiences of our clients are representative of a much larger problem,” said Aukerman, who represents Ms. Frazier and several other clients who have inaccurate criminal records. "People who have been a victim of identity theft, have a friend or family member who might have used their name when arrested, or who have a common name 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 exact numbers for Michigan are unknown, it seems likely, based on the national estimates, that thousands or even tens of thousands of Michigan citizens face this problem.”
“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 Michael Steinberg, ACLU of Michigan Legal Director who represents Mr. Clark. “The system is fundamentally flawed and nobody benefits from re-victimizing victims of identity fraud.”