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Get Gephardt: Mistaken identity is ruining the financial lives of Utahns

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(KUTV) A West Jordan woman is trying to put her financial life back together.

Elizabeth LeFevre is accused of skipping out of the rent from an apartment complex in West Jordan then not showing up in court. A judge has ordered she pay $2,182.46.

Elizabeth has been reported as a deadbeat by the nation's credit bureaus, preventing her from refinancing her home and buying a new car.

Her phone has also been ringing off the hook with harassing phone calls from debt collectors and credit counselors.

But LeFevre never lived at that apartment complex and all the court documents say the debt should belong to an Elizabeth with a different middle initial than hers. The debt belongs to a different Elizabeth LeFevre.

It is a case of mistaken identity.

Elizabeth says she contacted the lawyer who filed the lawsuit and begged him to help her clear her name and go after the right Elizabeth. The lawyer gave Elizabeth a letter that declares the debt is not hers.

Now, with nothing more than a piece of paper from a lawyer, Elizabeth finds herself battling, hour after hour, day after day, with the mighty credit bureaus and all the debt collectors and bankruptcy attorneys who call. It's a huge burden Elizabeth must endure, just to clear her name and hopefully restore her financial life.

"I'm just so mad," she says. "I can't even begin to explain how mad I am."

The internet has made performing background checks or tracking people down a lot simpler, especially with a number of so-called people-finder websites. But the websites are not fool proof.

There are numerous examples of people-finder websites confusing information, especially when two different individuals share a name. There are examples of such mix-ups costing people their jobs or job offers, as well as financial nightmares like the one facing LeFevre.

A lawsuit involving the people-finder Spokeo is currently heading to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court is expected to decide if people-finders can be held liable when information they provide is wrong.

President of the Utah Association of Collectors Michelle Camp says cases of mistaken identity are increasing exponentially.

"We see it very often," she said.

Camp blames fear of identity theft for the spike. She says people are being a lot more careful with their personal identifiers like social security numbers or driver license numbers. When signing contracts, people are refusing to provide those identifiers.

"Trying to determine which debt belongs to which person without some of those personal identifiers can be very difficult," she said. "So, sometimes [debts] get linked to the wrong person."

If there is a silver lining to the increase in mistaken identity collection cases, Camp says it's the increased responsiveness by the credit bureaus to fix mistakes. In the past a mistake could take months or even years to clear up she says, but not anymore.

"I think with the increased lawsuits and regulation for [the credit bureaus], they're having a lot quicker response time," Camp said.

Elizabeth says she is currently still fighting to restore her credit and is furious that the burden is on her to prove her innocence when she did nothing wrong.

Kirk Killimore, the attorney representing the apartment complex that is trying to collect from a different Elizabeth, says it is not he who reported Elizabeth as a deadbeat to the nation's credit bureaus. He says that credit bureaus monitor court records.

Because he didn't report the debt, Kullimore said he is powerless to do anything more to help Elizabeth clear her name.

Kullimore echoes what Camp says, saying cases of mistaken identity happen all the time.

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Copyright 2015 Sinclair Broadcast Group

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