You would think changing your name would be difficult, but in many states, it's not. Teeshawndra Nelson found out how easy it is to go to the King County Courthouse in Washington State and change her name. She actually changed her name eight times in 3 1/2 years and obtained a new drivers license or ID card each time.
Nelson then proceeded to open bank accounts using the new name and stolen Social Security numbers. She was then able to write bad checks until the bank would put a hold on the account. At that point she would just go and get another name change. Each time, she simply told the judge she wanted to change her name for religious reasons. Every time, the judge granted her the name change.
A special agent, Matthew Lavelle from the Office of the Inspector General within the Social Security Administration, found Nelson and 10 other name changing ID thieves while he was investigating a fraud case involving a Washington Department of Licensing employee. Lavelle also discovered that Coretta Caldwell had obtained 17 Washington State ID cards using different names. She also changed her name several times in the King County District Court and allegedly opened 15 checking accounts using the new names.
Caldwell alone reportedly wrote $67,000 in bad checks, while altogether the 11 people charged in this case are accused of defrauding merchants for at least $158,000. Each of the 11 defendants is charged with bank fraud and Social Security fraud and will stand trial on October 15.
Currently, this method of identity theft is still very easy to achieve. In Washington, its only costs $108 and takes a few minutes for a petitioner to fill out the application form. There are only 2 "safeguards" in place to prevent fraudulent name changes. The first is a statement on the application saying the name change can't be "detrimental to the interests of any other person". The second "safeguard" occurs when the judge asks if the name change is for illicit purposes, to defraud creditors or harm someone. In most cases, all a petitioner has to do is say "no" and no other checks are made to see if the person has changed their name multiple times or were already involved in fraudulent behavior with the current or previous names.
Here's the most shocking part: The petitioner does not have to provide a Social Security Card or Driver's License to identify themselves.
Most people change their names because of marriage, divorce, or the desire to take a relative's name.
In Washington State alone, thousands change their names every year with just a brief visit to the district court.
Unless these loopholes are fixed by an action at the state level, each county can continue to process these in the same manner that allowed these 11 people to steal identities and commit fraud.
Note: Unfortunately, some victims of identity theft have been forced to file bankruptcy thanks to the fraud that occurred in their accounts.
If you've been hit by identity theft and are considering filing bankruptcy, click below to talk to a bankruptcy lawyer about your options.