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Collection Agency Persists In Recouping Debt Despite Mistake

Photo by Kris Arciaga / KPBS

Above: A San Diego lawyer says AllianceOne is deliberately shutting people out of the state's amnesty program for people with unpaid tickets, January 27, 2017.

Collection Agency Persists In Recouping Debt Despite Mistake

A letter from the California Franchise Tax Board was his first clue the collection agency AllianceOne had not heeded pleas that he was not a deadbeat.

The notice stated he owed $1,496 for three cases identified only by numbers. But the problem was— the notice was mailed to the wrong guy.

The letter was addressed to Gilberto G. Herrera.

But it was sent to Gilverto Herrera, who also does not have a middle name.

“I couldn’t believe this was happening to me and they could make a mistake like this,” Herrera said.

He said if he had any outstanding tickets, he would have paid them off because his job as a defense department employee with a security clearance bars him from having any debt in collections.

After he got the letter, Herrera said he researched records at the county courthouse and visited AllianceOne. He showed clerks at both places his driver’s license and social security number.

“I tried to convince them that this is not me,” Herrera said.

A clerk then let him view the original traffic tickets made out to Gilberto G. Herrera. But the b in the first name had been crossed out and overwritten in hand was the letter v. He said he asked why, but that he never got a decent answer.

Finally, Herrera took his case to a judge who concluded it was a matter of mistaken identity. He ordered Herrera be removed from collections.

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

Gilverto Herrera says AllianceOne's hurt his credit score. February, 2017.

Right after that ruling, Herrera went directly to AllianceOne and gave the company the court’s order.

”Then they said, ‘Well, we can’t give you any information because now this is not you.’” Herrera said. “It kind of got really upsetting.”

Ultimately, AllianceOne sent a notice to Herrera stating it had requested credit bureaus to delete from their records that Herrera owed any money.

But it was too late.

A portion of the nearly $1,500 that Gilberto G. Herrera owed was taken from Gilverto Herrera’s income taxes. Herrera’s credit score dropped.

“It went from one day being in the 700s to in the low 500s,” Herrera said.

The impact of the mistaken identity affected his job. He said it took nearly a year for his name to be cleared with his employer.

“Waiting to see if you’re going to lose your job or not for nine months, that’s not a very good feeling,” Herrera said.

He has now sued the collection company for illegal debt collection.

AllianceOne did not respond to multiple interview requests made by KPBS. Neither did the San Diego Superior Court which has a contract with AllianceOne.

Herrera’s lawyer, Salim Khawaja, said there’s no excuse for what happened.

“The person who owed the traffic tickets has a completely different name, different address, different company,” Khawaja said. “He has a different date of birth, different social security number. Everything is different.”

Khawaja said AllianceOne could have easily verified what Herrera had told them for years with just a few keystrokes.

“They have skip tracing ability which means that they can research databases, legal databases and find out all kinds of information about the person, who these people are, what are their date of births, social security, where have they lived in the last 10 years, where they worked,” Khawaja said.

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