Identity theft victim gets drug fraud charges expunged

By Joel Eisenbaum - Investigative Reporter, Tera Roberson - Special Projects Producer

HOUSTON - Identity theft could happen to anyone, and as one Houston-area retiree found out, it's not only money they're after.

Deborah Ford was robbed in 2008 -- she walked into a service station and returned to her vehicle realizing a thief had struck.

Her purse, her driver's license, credit cards, checks, and even health insurance card was gone.

Ford did what most would do. She called the bank, the credit card company and she even called her health insurance provider to request a new card.

The unfortunate theft appeared to be just one of life's bumps in the road. But, it turned out though, it was a mountain. Ford went from victim to suspect in the blink of an eye.

HPD's Financial Crimes Unit did not handle this case, but Lt. Chris Lohse has seen this sort of thing before.

"The perpetrators who are engaged in identity theft, especially organized identity theft are always looking for a new avenue."

Ford received a phone call in 2010 from bond companies stating that there was a warrant out for her arrest. The charge was obtaining drugs by fraud.

From one end of Houston to the other, cops were convinced Ford was using phony prescriptions to get drugs—1,710 pills of hydrocodone and codeine.

Ford called investigators and tried getting to the bottom of it.

"I was so terrified. I mean I was terrified. The thought that these people are planning on coming to my home and taking me away," said Ford.

Ford's son made the connection that police didn't. The stolen purse was the missing link.

"I didn't even think about the purse being stolen," said Ford. "These criminals, what they did...they took my driver's license and duplicated somebody else's face on my driver's license."

Lt. Lohse says this form of criminal activity is referred to as medical identity theft.

"We've even seen cases where folks use someone else's identity for elective cosmetic surgery. Those are some of the more extreme cases but we have seen them," said Lohse.

Ford turned herself in. She was fingerprinted and her mug shot was taken. For the last five years — even though the case was eventually dismissed — the charge remains on her record.

Ford went to the Harris County District Attorney's Office to see if she could restore her good name.

After meeting with representatives from the DA's office, Ford signed the documents necessary to get her criminal record expunged.

"Finally, finally, finally," said Ford after she signed the final documents. "Hallelujah…hallelujah...I got my life back. This is Deborah Ford. I am not a criminal."

In the case of identity theft, authorities say to call the medical insurance company and flag the account. In the rare case where identity theft results in criminal charges, the DA's office says to call their office directly and without delay to be directed on the proper steps to take to get a record expunged.

For more information on record expungement, visit http://www.houstontx.gov/police/expunction/.

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