Charge It To Bad Luck

Karen Ann Law didn't know she had a "namesake" in Phoenix until last July. But this is not a cute, heartwarming story about two pals with the same name. It's a tale of giving credit where credit should not have been due.

Karen Law's discovery has led to a War of the Laws--Karen Ann Law versus Karen Christine Law--and a skirmish that includes a lawsuit and a bankruptcy. And while Karen Christine and her lawyer aren't saying much, the battle has caused Karen Ann nothing but grief.

"I learned that a Karen Law had been trying to rent an apartment," she says, "and that she was using personal information about me and my credit history. I own a house, for one thing, and I didn't know what was going on. This woman with my name had stolen my identity, if that makes any sense. And I didn't know the half of it."

The more Karen Ann learned, the sicker she felt: "The other Karen has every credit card in the city, and she applied for them with my social security number and a ton of other personal stuff. "I've had a car company calling me day in and day out to say that if I didn't pay, they were going to repossess my car. I'd keep telling them, `I'm looking at my car in my driveway right now, and it's not one of your cars. And I paid for my car in cash back in Illinois, sir.'"

Karen Ann, a public information specialist for Maricopa County Superior Court, says she learned about Karen Christine last July 17. She got a call from Tenant Research Services, which checks out credit and other personal information on prospective renters. The woman who called Karen Ann had noticed discrepancies on a credit report for a "Karen Law," and dialed a number listed in the phone book.

One thing led to another, and Karen Ann spoke to a north Phoenix apartment manager who had interviewed a prospective renter named Karen Law.

"He told me he had some suspicions that the other Karen had marked up her driver's license to change something, and also that she was acting strange," Karen Ann says. "I assured him I wasn't renting. He and the lady at Tenant Research suggested that I go down and check my credit rating."

Karen Ann--who says she holds just three active credit cards--went to a credit bureau and paid for a search. What she found out jolted her like a Buster Douglas uppercut.

"The report literally rolled down to the floor," she says. "There were dozens of inquiries about my credit from everyone under the sun--car companies, you name it. I just went pale. I told the guy, `It's not me.' He's thinking, `Sure, lady.' He gave me request forms and phone numbers, and I just started calling all these numbers to see what the story was. I still haven't straightened it out. My credit is very screwed up."

Karen Christine Law, who lists her occupation as "financial counselor," couldn't be reached for comment. Her lawyer Michael Hurley says, "We have no comment on the allegations at this point. This litigation may go in any number of directions. Just remember, there are two sides to every story."

And two Karen Laws.
As she dug and dug, Karen Ann also discovered that Karen Christine apparently had gained access to a computer that held personal information--such as Karen Ann's date of birth, social security number, driver's license number, her sister's name, even an uncle's address.

By this time, Karen Ann had hired Phoenix attorney Carol Pilch to represent her.

"When Karen called me," Pilch recalls, "I said to myself, `She's got to be making some of this up.' She's not. She's still trying to clear up her credit rating, and what that other Karen did is incredible."

After a few months, Karen Ann learned that Karen Christine had been working at Blue Cross/Blue Shield-- Karen's insurance carrier at the time--and had access to a computer. Also by this time, Karen Christine knew that her not-so-happy namesake wanted to scalp her.

"She called me one day," Karen Ann says, "and she said she was sorry. `Are you mad?' she asked me. I couldn't believe it. Her excuse was that she had called a car company--she couldn't remember which one--from the yellow pages, and that she couldn't remember her social security number, so the guy punched into a credit computer and gave her my number. That's why she was using my number, she said. The trouble is, she used so much more than that over the months. She even used my sister as a reference on one of the accounts."

Karen Ann filed a lawsuit December 4 in Maricopa County Superior Court, alleging that Karen Christine was "still using personal information belonging to [Karen Ann] in order to obtain services and benefits . . . "

"We want to find out how she got the information, and that's one reason for filing," Karen Ann says of the civil suit, which does not request a specific dollar amount.

At the moment, however, it doesn't appear Karen Ann Law has the "law" on her side. That's because Karen Christine filed for protection under the federal bankruptcy laws in early January, shortly before she had to answer to Karen Ann's Superior Court lawsuit.

The bankruptcy filing automatically puts Karen Ann's lawsuit on hold, lawyers for both Karen Laws agree.

Karen Christine lists debts of $19,766, and assets of $6,810 in her bankruptcy. She lists her current jobs as a claims processor/financial counselor for New York Life Insurance Company and Phoenix's Memorial Hospital, and says she earned $27,000 in 1989.

Karen Christine lists 25 creditors in the bankruptcy to whom she owes money. Most of those creditors either lent her money or let her make purchases on credit that appears in Karen Ann's credit reports.

"It's hard to figure something like this happening to me," says Karen Ann. "I used to just be Karen Law, just going my own way. Now, I have to watch my back because there's another Karen out there, and I don't like her."

"I told the guy, `It's not me.' He's thinking, `Sure, lady.'"