The whole situation didn't seem plausible. A 7-year old's financial life entangled with a complete stranger's.
She is now 14 years old. The Peoria girl's Social Security number was used fraudulently and repeatedly since she was a second grader and as recently as last year. She had businesses and bank accounts connected to her. Debt collectors were calling her house.
But, the Social Security Administration would not issue the girl a new number. Not after begging from her mom, not with detectives and attorneys pleading her case, not even after Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake got involved, sending letters to SSA on the child's behalf. For 7 years, denial after denial. Then her story aired on ABC15
"48 hours later, I get a phone call from Social Security and they offered us a new number," said the girl's mother, Jill Carlon.
It's a new number and clean start. The stress in Carlon's voice from when we first talked to her has turned to joy.
"They told us about two weeks to expect the new card in the mail and it was less than a week later we had the card in hand," she said.
It sounds easy now, but Carlon will tell you it has been anything but. Over the past 7 years, Carlon said Social Security recommended she press charges against the fraudster, local charity founder Jacqueline Harris, if she wanted to obtain a new number for her daughter. Harris was then convicted of one felony count of possession of a forgery device. Then Carlon said the goal post moved. If she wanted a new number, Social Security said she would have to change her daughter's name. She did that too. But it still wasn't enough to get a new number.
"Over the years there were points I was like let's throw in the towel, I'm done," she said.
But if there's one piece of advice for other identity theft victims, she said don't give up the fight.
"My goal as a mom is to protect my kids and one of the things is protecting her future," she said. "So I felt like it was important to follow this through all the way to the end."
It means the girl no longer has a tainted Social Security number. According to credit monitoring company All Clear ID, child identity theft victims run into serious problems when it comes time to go to college, get a job, and of course, obtain credit. Often they're denied opportunities because a criminal or negative credit history shows up, through no fault of their own.
The number still exists with the credit bureaus, but there's a fraud alert on it if anyone tries to use it. This new number means no more intersecting lives with the convict, and hopefully no more navigating the financial and bureaucratic aftermath they now know so well. Carlon said she will keep pushing for changes in laws to protect identity theft victims. She recently met with Rep. Kyrsten Sinema who sponsored a bill that could have prevented the type of identity theft Carlon's daughter experienced. It passed Congress on May 22.
As for Harris, her name was removed as CEO of My Brother's Keeper within minutes after our story aired, according to paperwork filed with the state. That's the name of the local non-profit she founded and had a business bank account for, opened with the young girl's Social Security number. She is still listed as a statutory agent for the charity. She has declined to talk to us about this story.