Traffic tickets piled up in his name and a warrant was issued for his arrest, but the man whose name is listed on the paperwork isn’t the one who police are seeking.
The real Phil Follette said he has been the victim of identity theft twice in the past 20 years and now is working to clear his name in Johnson County. Another man, who has claimed to be Follette, has been charged with identity deception and forgery.
More than 3,500 Hoosiers have their identities used fraudulently each year. Some victims don’t find out their information has been used until several months later and then face the challenge and financial burden of fixing the damage.
Follette, of Camby, has been through that process once before and now is working to clear his name a second time after learning he could have been arrested on a warrant for a crime he didn’t commit.
Fighting identity theft
If you think you’ve been the victim of identity theft, here are four steps to help protect yourself:
File a fraud alert with one the three major credit companies,
TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. That agency will then forward the alert to the other two. You will be able to request a free credit report and check for any suspicious activity.
Close any accounts that may be compromised, such as credit cards or bank accounts. If your accounts have been accessed, contact the company and ask how to file a fraud report.
File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. The commission can share the information with law enforcement and help protect your identity from fraud in the future.
File a report with local police where the identity theft took place. Provide law enforcement with the FTC fraud report if you have it.
SOURCES: Federal Trade Commission and the President’s Task Force on Identity Theft
“It’s just a mess, and you’ve got to go to work every day and try to make a living, and then you’ve got to deal with this,” he said.
Police arrested a man in January 2011 on a charge of operating while intoxicated and took him to the Johnson County jail, where he was booked in with the Social Security number and name of Phillip Follette.
Sheriff’s Maj. Duane Burgess said the man’s photo and fingerprints were in the state system under Follette’s name. Most people attempting to use a fake name are caught when their fingerprints don’t match the file, Burgess said.
Shortly after, a woman went to Fortune Bail Bonds in Franklin to get a bond to bail the man out.
When that man later failed to appear in court, Cheryl Fortune began the search for Follette. After about a year of searching, she located Follette’s daughter in Bargersville and discovered she was tracking the right name but the wrong man.
“She said, ‘Phillip Follette is my father, but the picture you have is not my father. But I know who he is,’” Fortune said.
Fortune contacted Follette and informed him there was a warrant for his arrest. Follette had no idea.
“My license has been suspended for a year, and I didn’t even know it. I could have been pulled over and went to jail myself and not even know what’s going on. That’s the scariest part of it,” he said.
Follette had encountered problems with his driver’s license about 20 years before. He went to the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles to renew his license, only to be told it was suspended because of unpaid tickets in Fishers.
“I had never been to Fishers before, so I ended up having to go to the Fishers Police Department to talk to the ticketing officer; and as soon as he had seen me, he knew it wasn’t me,” Follette said.
Getting his new license was a hassle. Follette had to prove his own identity, requiring him to get paperwork from the sheriff’s office, courts and BMV before was able to get a new license.
The process cost him about $700, he said.
This time, Follette fears he could be forced to spend just as much and possibly have to retake tests to get his license back.
For now, Follette is still driving with a suspended license because he hasn’t been able to get a new one.
He’s also uncertain about what damage might have been done to his credit as he and police continue to investigate.
Identity theft cases similar to Follette’s — where he believes the other man has used his name to get a driver’s license — are rare, accounting for only about 1 percent of nationwide cases, according to statistics from the Federal Trade Commission. Cases involving credit cards, wages and taxes, and utilities are the most common.
The FTC, which records identity theft complaints, reported more than 250,000 cases in the U.S. in 2010 and about 3,500 in Indiana. Those figures account for only reported cases, however, and the trade commission estimates as many as 9 million Americans might be victims of identity theft each year.
Fortune said the incident wasn’t the first time she’s dealt with a false identity. She once tracked down a man who had used the name of a dead friend when he was arrested. This time she was glad her efforts helped alert Follette that his identity had been used.
“This poor man did not know he had a warrant. He would have gone to jail,” she said.
Fortune was able to track down the man who used Follette’s name and returned him to jail in December.
Johnson County Prosecutor Brad Cooper dismissed the warrant and case against Follette.
“Once we figured it out through the bondsman and everybody else, we went and immediately dismissed the charge against Follette,” Cooper said.
Follette once again is trying to clear his name with the BMV. He’s been working with the prosecutor and sheriff’s office to get the documentation he needs to prove what happened.
He’s spent hours on the phone and expects he may have to spend as much as he did the first time in Fishers. He also is considering signing up for an identity theft protection service, which would be an additional cost.
Follette worries that he will have to go through the whole process a third time and doesn’t know how to stop it from happening again. He hopes that the arrest and new charges will help, but he will always have some lingering doubt, he said.
“It’s kind of like looking over your shoulder driving down the road. It might be in different counties. It could have been more than Johnson County,” he said. “I could be driving through a different county and get pulled over and the same thing happen to me.”