A high school education.
A good job.
A mobile home.
These are all things that Joanna Saenz has accomplished over the past few years in Fremont.
The only problem is that the 25-year-old has never lived in Fremont. Saenz lives in Denver.
Agents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement office have accused Patricia Garcia-Pardo, 23, of Fremont of stealing Saenz’s identity. Garcia-Pardo was supposed to face charges in October in U.S. District Court that could have sent her to prison for up to 15 years before facing deportation. Garcia Pardo did not show up for her trial and is currently listed as a fugitive.
“This has been happening to me since I was 17,” Saenz said. “She graduated under my name and everything.”
Her father is an American citizen who was born in Mexico. Saenz was born here, but in her youth made yearly trips to Mexico to visit family.
“At age 17, the law was you needed your Social Security number and birth certificate to prove who you were to get across the border,” Saenz said. “I went to Juarez and my aunt’s house was robbed and they took my Social Security number and birth certificate. I was really scared.”
She said she called the authorities and even the FBI, but at that age did not fully comprehend the gravity of the situation.
She notified the Federal Trade Commission that her identity had been stolen, but was just told to check her credit reports and dispute anything that was not right.
When she turned 18, she got her first job and started checking credit reports.
“Then, I saw I owned a home in Fremont, Neb.,” Saenz said. “Then
2005 comes up and I got a letter from the IRS saying I owed $30,000 in back
taxes. I thought ‘Oh my gosh, I did my taxes wrong and I’m going to jail.’”
That’s when she discovered that Garcia-Pardo had been working various jobs in the Fremont area under her name and Social Security number.
“She was making money on my name and not paying taxes,” Saenz said. “I would get phone calls from creditors saying I owed $600 to Cellular One — in Fremont, Neb. This was consuming my life.”
Then Saenz got in touch with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in Omaha who investigated her case along with the fraud department of the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles.
“They went to her house and asked if she was Joanna and she told them my birth date and Social Security number,” Saenz said. “She went to her room and got them two Social Security cards and my original birth certificate.”
William Wallrapp, resident agent in charge for the Omaha ICE office, said identity theft cases like Saenz’s are common for ICE.
“I have active identity theft cases in my office all the time. Mainly what we see is identity theft related to an illegal immigrant,” he said. “We’ve seen original (documents) stolen before, but normally they buy fraudulent ones. Some of these made by document vendors are very good. You can’t tell the difference if you’re not trained.”
He couldn’t comment specifically on the Saenz case because it hasn’t been resolved.
“These people use Social Security numbers, work in Florida (for example), earn $40,000 and then the IRS is after you,” Wallrapp said. “They need that Social Security number just to get their foot in the door and get a paycheck. It’s common for people to find out through collectors, credit card companies and the IRS.”
He said assets gotten through identity theft often are seized by the government and proceeds returned to the victims.
“We’ve seen them from young to old; they can’t operate under their own identity,” Wallrapp said.
He said people can call 1-866-347-2423 after registering with the Federal Trade Commission web site (www.ftc.gov) to report possible identity theft.
“Our national center will send the lead out to the office in that area,” Wallrapp said. “We’ll usually reach out and say we’re involved and we’ll let you know when we have anything. This has a serious impact on people’s lives.”
Saenz said she has spent more than $7,000 trying to fight her identity theft. That’s not including all the time she has spent.
“To this day I am still fighting creditors,” Saenz said.
Wallrapp said his office has not quit trying to find Garcia-Pardo.
“We’re looking for her,” he said. “If somebody knows where she is, please call us.”