I was a victim of identity theft eight years ago while running a successful bakery. I only discovered this when automatic payments from my bank account to my credit card increased dramatically. I disputed the charges immediately, and the credit card company assured me they would take care of the problem.

After the economy fell apart, I was forced to make a career change. I am now a special education teacher and I make significantly less money. Every penny is important. Last month, out of nowhere, my employer told me that my wages were being garnished.  I never even knew that a lawsuit had been filed against me! In order to pay rent, I had to stop the direct deposit of my paychecks, and I ran to the Court to see what I could do. No one there seemed to believe my story, and I had to work hard to even find out what was going on. Finally, I discovered that a debt collector, who I had never heard of, now owned this old fraudulent credit card debt. I was shocked, and felt stupid for having trusted the credit card company to take care of it.

A friend of mine pushed me to offer the debt collector a settlement, saying that I would be hit with court fees and other costs I can’t afford. That’s what happened to him. I followed his advice, but the attorney who took the call just laughed at me. Then, right before my Court date, I was served with a thick “Motion for Summary Judgment.” I was really scared and had no idea what to do.

I took more time off work and went back to Court where I found NYLAG’s Bronx Volunteer Lawyer for a Day Program. I explained to them that I was a victim of identity theft and they advised me how to proceed. NYLAG attorney Shanna Tallarico helped me file legal papers opposing the plaintiff’s Motion. Shanna noticed right away that the Motion was full of half truths, incorrect law, inaccurate dates and names. The opposing attorney changed his attitude towards me after he saw that the volunteer lawyers were helping me. He even offered us a very low settlement. But I knew I didn’t need to settle with him out of fear – I had a right to defend myself and finally be rid of this unfair situation.

Thanks to NYLAG’s help, I know my rights and can effectively dispute this debt that was never mine. I never expected to walk into Court feeling helpless and walk out feeling this strong and hopeful. I feel empowered. I just wish everyone knew what I now know.

The debt collector’s attorneys were real bullies and no one seemed to care about what was right or wrong. All the other defendants in Court looked confused and scared. I heard some of their stories, too—many people with identity theft just like me—and none of us understood why we were being sued. I really hope no one has to go through this process alone, without an attorney.