ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – In today’s digital age, it’s a matter of when, not if you will become a victim of identity theft. It’s a stern warning, but one detective from the Albuquerque Police Department’s White Collar Crimes section says is becoming more of a reality every day.
New Mexico offers a safety net to help identify victims of ID theft, so police don’t mistakenly cart people off to jail because of someone else’s wrongdoing. But the five-year-old law is not being put to good use, a KRQE News 13 review has found.
The Identity Theft Passport bill was signed into law in 2009. Victims of identity theft can apply for the endorsement — indicated with the letter “V” — on the backs of their New Mexico driver’s licenses.
“People were getting stopped for routine traffic offenses and then getting hauled in for somebody else’s crimes, because that person had used their identity when they were booked. This was a way of getting around it,” said state Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque) who was one of the sponsors of the original bill.
Victims who want the identity theft endorsement must file a police report and fill out an ID theft affidavit. Law enforcement agencies upload those documents to a statewide database, which is monitored by the Attorney General’s Office.
The Motor Vehicle Division is supposed to use the database to verify that people are true victims of identity theft before issuing an endorsement.
However, KRQE News 13 found only 39 identity theft passports have been issued in the past five years. That’s a paltry two percent of the 1,941 people in the database, according to a spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office.
Demesia Padilla, secretary of the state Taxation and Revenue Department, said she didn’t know how many of those nearly 2,000 people had sought an ID theft passport, or how many had been denied.
“Just passing the law clearly doesn’t solve the problem,” Ortiz y Pino said in an interview. “Why have this law if people aren’t using it? There’s been a breakdown.”
APD White Collar Crimes Det. Jennifer Weber said she’s noticing problems, too.
“What I’ve heard is that when individuals have gone in to get a passport, they just haven’t been able to because of a lack of knowledge at MVD,” Weber said.
Karen Hodge told KRQE News 13 that her identity has been stolen several times since the early 1980s. It’s caused all kinds of problems for the Albuquerque woman, she said, including a forced bankruptcy, lost job opportunities and credit card debt that wasn’t hers.
Hodge said she’s been trying to get an ID theft passport for more than a year.
“I’ve been after them like five times in the last year,” she said. “They just kept making excuses. I don’t see how it takes two to three months from them to process through all the stuff I turned in to them.”
Padilla, who oversees MVD, said there could be several reasons why the program is underutilized and ineffective. For one, Padilla said the database isn’t always current due to a lag time from when victims file the necessary paperwork to when their names appear on the Attorney General’s database.
“If their name is not on the database, there’s nothing we can do,” Padilla said.
Weber said it takes about two weeks for APD Records to process the identity theft police reports and enter them into the database.
Padilla couldn’t say how many people have been turned away because of the delay.
But the biggest reason for the low number of ID theft passports issued, Padilla said, could be a lack of awareness of the program.
“Obviously, we have to do more work at all levels to make sure victims know we are here to help them get their lives back in order,” Padilla said.
To spread awareness about the passports, Padilla said MVD plans to start displaying posters in offices and on its website. MVD also will re-educate its employees on the statute and on the process during a manager’s meeting next month.
Policy makers and victims hope for an easy fix to a long-standing problem.
“We want to make sure that it doesn’t slip through the cracks,” said Ortiz y Pino.