Q. I have been turned down for several jobs recently, and finally asked the last place I applied why, and they said it was because of a criminal conviction that came up on my background check. I was floored — I have never been charged with a crime, much less convicted! I have no idea how to correct this. Where do I start?
A. When it comes to identity theft, most of us think of the creep who somehow sneaks enough information to get a credit card in someone else’s name, spends to the limit, and leaves the innocent person in a financial mess. As your situation proves, however, debt is not the worst thing that can happen. It won’t be much comfort, but the other kinds of problems identity theft can create include incurring debts with all kinds of businesses and services, from online vendors to gas and electric companies, and even with medical providers, which creates confused medical records on top of everything else. Or you could have been pulled into court yourself to fight a criminal charge.
In your case, it looks like sometime, somewhere, somebody knew enough of your personal information to pass themselves off as you when they were caught doing something wrong. This isn’t supposed to happen, and it doesn’t happen very often.
You should look for an attorney who has experience with identity theft and criminal defense. The attorney will track back this report and contact all the entities that have it wrong. It may require going to court to clear your name. Or it may not — it might be a reporting error and not identity theft at all. In any case, it probably won’t be easy or inexpensive.
However, there may also be a way to pursue other entities for damage: Maybe the company that did the background check, maybe a credit report company, some institution that did not protect your personal information adequately, and even the person at the end of all this who posed as you to begin with — if it turns out that this was, indeed, identity theft and not a reporting error.
You won’t know until an attorney looks into it where the real mistake lies, so you really should get started quickly. There may be time limits on pursuing some kinds of suits. Good luck.
This column is a service of the Lawyer Referral and Information Service of the Maine State Bar Association. Its contents are a general response to the question and do not constitute legal advice. Questions are welcome. E-mail AAL@mainebar.org, describe your question and note you are a BDN reader. Written questions mailed to “Ask a Lawyer,” Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor, Maine, 04402-1329, will be forwarded to the LRIS.