Kathryn Shearer’s identity theft case is a worst-case scenario.
“It trickles down to every aspect of your life, your daily life,” she said.
Her social security number was stolen when was she was 12 years old. A crime she wouldn’t discover until nine years later.
By that time, the damage was irreparable.
Using her SSN, an undocumented immigrant assembled an entire life: multiple houses, car loans, credit cards, a divorce, and child support payments.
Francisco Rodriguez is the man who did it, according to court records. He left a long trail of documented evidence spanning more than a decade. But it took Shearer more than five years to bring her identity thief to justice. Her case has ignited a war of words between two of Arizona’s top prosecutors.
She doesn’t believe she will ever be able to fully fix the damage.
“Not being able to prove who you are is the most hurtful thing in the world” Shearer said.
Arizona remains one of the worst states in the country for identity theft.
Shearer said most people can’t understand the toll it takes until it happens to them.
“When you move to get electricity set up, I can’t do that, or to get a loan for a car or a credit card,” she said. “My social security number, which I had to fight tooth and nail for, is such a new number even banks don’t recognize it for a checking account.”
Shearer recently graduated from the law school at Arizona State University.
She’s having trouble passing the character background check for the state bar because her credit was ruined.
“My mother passed away when I was 17 from ovarian cancer,” Shearer said. “So it’s been my father and I. They raised me to be something and somebody. So it’s very hard for my father to see all of my hard work and everything he’s ever taught me end up being nothing at this point.”
And it affects her so often, Shearer carries proof of what’s happened in her purse.
“I carry a written letter of what I’ve gone through,” she said. “I carry the case file. I carry documents from the Attorney General’s Office, my birth certificate and social security card.”
Shearer said it was also painful for her to watch her case trickle through the legal system.
With the help of a Mesa police detective, she spent countless hours building a case, obtaining reams of records and evidence.
But to her surprise, it took five years to get a conviction. At first, the case was turned down by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office in 2011.
County Attorney Bill Montgomery said the case was “very well put together” but did not have any witnesses.
“The only issue the reviewing attorney had was who was going to identify the person responsible if we were actually going to present the case to the jury,” he said. “So we asked for the additional information, and the case was never resubmitted to our office.”
Instead, the detective took the case to the Attorney General’s Office a month later.
Tom Horne said his prosecutor had no issue getting an indictment. Rodriguez later pled guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison late last year.
“I think (it was) unfairly turned down at the county attorney’s office,” Horne said. “There was no concern because we had the certified records to establish that he was the person. It doesn’t make sense to say that you can’t show he’s the person because you don’t have a live witness.”
We took Horne’s comment to Montgomery to get a response.
“If a comment like that had actually come from a fellow prosecutor, I might actually feel the need to respond,” he said. “Since it came from a politician serving in the role of a prosecuting position, I’m not going to give it any weight.
In an interesting twist, we learned while researching this story that the County Attorney personally spoke with Kathryn Shearer about a job.
“I had a separate conversation with her to help her with her circumstance,” Montgomery said. “It’s completely independent of this.”
After our interview with Montgomery, Shearer said she was turned down for the position.
Contacting Kathryn Shearer and Preventing Identity Theft
Kathryn Shearer now helps the Attorney General’s Office by speaking at identity theft seminars and conferences.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Here are several resources that give advice and tips on identity theft protection:
Federal Trade Commission
Attorney General’s Office
Maricopa County Attorney’s Office