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.