HOUSTON -- With just three words, Linda Mims can describe a decade of her life.
“That’s not me,” she said.
It’s something Ashley Skillern has had to say for the last five years of her life, over and over again like a broken record.
“It’s just, it’s just, it’s just not me,” said Skillern. “I’m constantly saying that’s not me.”
Both are victims of a particular kind of identity theft. It’s the kind that cannot only ruin your credit, but also get you thrown in jail.
“It’s a nightmare. It’s depressing,” Mims told the KHOU 11 News I-Team.
Fifteen years ago someone broke into her trunk and stole her purse.
“I had all my information in my purse,” she said.
And a few months later, she discovered she now had a bank account she did not know about.
“They said you came in and opened an account and I said, ‘no I didn’t,’” Mims explained.
She was now a victim of financial fraud, but that is nothing compared to when the mother of two went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to renew her driver’s license.
“They pulled me into the back and said you have a warrant for your arrest,” Mims recalled. “And I’m like, ‘what’s going on?’” Turns out, someone had opened another checking account in her name and abused it and now they were wanted for check fraud.
“And I’m like 'that’s not me,'” she said.
That time, in the end, they believed her, but soon every time she entered a government office she met trouble.
“They handcuffed me,” she said describing one experience. On one occasion, she was nearly strip searched.
“They wanted to see if I had a tattoo on my body so I had to take my clothes off,” she said.
There was even a time when she went into a government office and they told her they could not issue her a social security card, because she was incarcerated.
Law enforcement saw her as a criminal, when they really wanted a woman by the name of Erika Taylor, a convicted forger who had been using Mims’ good name.
Then, there is Ashley Skillern, who admits she has a lead foot, but said she has never been convicted of anything more than speeding. That’s why what happened to her was so surprising.
“I get pulled over and they say, ‘you look great for being a convict in prison,’” explained Skillern.
Come to find out, she too had a lengthy criminal history that she knew nothing about and had been a regular guest of the state.
So who was using her identity? It’s believed a woman by the name of Alisha Allen, an accomplished car thief, which was not good news to Skillern.
“The fact that someone has a five-page rap sheet it’s, you know, it’s frustrating,” she said.
While it may be frustrating, there is a last resort that many people don’t know about. It’s called a “not me” letter.
KHOU 11 News: “How many copies of it do you have?
Linda Mims: “At least about 10.”
Our victims swear by these letters, letters that are issued by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.
It’s a free service and all they need is you and your identification and one more thing:
They need to do a scan of your fingerprints that they then compare with the crook using your name.
Finally, the HCSO types up a letter for you to present to law enforcement in case you get stopped, or in case someone else has questions about what appears to be a criminal record.
The HCSO gives out an average of 30 letters a week.
“My taillight was out and I got pulled over,” said Mims describing an experience after she received the ‘not me’ letter.
“I pulled the letter out to give to the officer.”
KHOU 11 News: “You gave it to him and he knew what it was?
Ashley Skillern has had a similar experience.
“Luckily, it has worked,” she said.
However, there is just one problem: Even the sheriff’s office admits it’s not a sure thing, according to Sgt. Jay Lovett.
KHOU 11 News: “Do all officers know about it?
Sgt. Lovett: “I can’t say for certain every officer in the state of Texas has been trained on it.”
KHOU 11 News: “Is it something that they should be trained on?
Sgt. Lovett: “It is something they should be trained on.”
KHOU 11 News: And at this point, it’s not?
Sgt. Lovett: “It’s not mandatory.”