Maricopa Police officer Ricardo Alvarado has a case that's stumped him for 12 years. An identity theft case. It's his identity theft case. When he tries to apply for credit or a loan, it turns into a full blown interrogation by lenders who make him prove he is the real Ricardo Alvarado.
"Do you believe I faked my own life in Bowling Green, Kentucky?" he said.
There's a phony Ricardo Alvarado in Bowling Green. He took this Ricardo's name, his birthday and his Social Security number, then ran up an $18,000 hospital bill and defaulted on it, damaging the real Alvarado's good credit history. The poser even files his taxes under Alvarado's personal information.
"I would love to know who this person is," Alvarado said.
But even being a police officer doesn't help him in the cross-country case. In fact, he found out about the other Ricardo when he almost didn't get hired by the Arizona Department of Public Safety in 2006.
"It was a pretty highly coveted position and it was something I had always wanted to do and to be told you can't be a trooper with the Department of Public Safety because you have bad credit was an absolute shock to me," he said.
But he got the misunderstanding cleared up and got the job, eventually leaving for a position with the Maricopa Police Department. The financial problems never went away though.
"This guy popped up again in 2015 and used my Social Security number and information again to run up another bill at a hospital," Alvarado said.
The case seems like a piece of cake. Alvarado obviously knows the man's "name" and was able to get an address for his place of employment. He said he called the business, but they weren't interested in helping. As for police in Bowling Green? They have yet to go after the guy. Alvarado doesn't totally fault them though. Along with dwindling municipal resources, he said the training just isn't there for local departments.
"They (the cases) become a low priority because most agencies don't know how to handle them," Alvarado said.
And with it being across state lines, he said the onus is on the federal government to crack down on these crimes.
Eva Velasquez, the head of the Identity Theft Resource Center said the lack of interest in pursuing these cases on the local level can also be cultural.
"Victims have a right to have those cases investigated," Velasquez said. "I have to look at each jurisdiction, but it's really going to come from the top down, from the leadership."
Velasquez said decision-makers like mayors and police chiefs need to understand the egregiousness of these crimes which haunt the victims for life.
It tops the list of consumer complaints according to the Federal Trade Commission with 1.5 million fraud and identity theft reports every year.
"The volume and scope of these instances are occurring at a rate where we cannot keep up," Velasquez said. "That is a simple fact."
In a sense, the troubles Alvarado deals with have been educational for the Maricopa Police Department. He has become an unintentional expert on the subject, with the kind of training he never really wanted. It still angers him, but he's learned to live with it. He's forced to mail his income tax return in yearly and carry a detailed file with him every time he wants to apply for credit or a loan.
"(At first) I was like I'm going to fly to Bowling Green, Kentucky and I'm going to find this guy. Then I thought to myself well, what is that going solve and what is that going to get me? There will just be two Ricardo Alvarados in jail," he joked.
Alvarado dreads the day when he is eligible for Social Security benefits because right now, double income is being reported under his number. Though theoretically that means double the amount of retirement money, realistically it will be something that needs straightened out and he expects the bureaucratic red tape to delay what is rightfully his.
How do you prevent becoming a victim? There isn't a foolproof way. The FTC offers this advice:
Consumers should closely guard their social security number and shred charge receipts, copies of credit applications and other sensitive documents. Consumers also should review their credit card reports regularly and be aware of telltale signs to detect that their identity may have been stolen. In addition, if consumers find they have been victimized, there are a series of steps they can take to recover from identity theft as soon as they detect it, such as placing a fraud alert on their credit report and closing accounts that may have been tampered with.
If you are the victim of identity theft, be sure to file a police report. Some jurisdictions may tell you you don't need one, but be persistent. You may need a copy of the report to dispute charges or other types of fraud. Also, file a complaint with the FTC.