According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, I am dead.

My husband and I are hoping to adopt a child, and one of the requirements is to provide a copy of my driving record. I went on the DMV’s website, and to my surprise, I found that I have been reported as “deceased.” Later, I was told my “death” was recorded in September 2013 as a “Code 3,” which means there was an “actual body.”

I don't know if it's related, but I was a victim of identity theft several years ago. Credit accounts were illegally opened under my name. Apparently, there was a data breach at a college I had attended. Please help.


- Maria Vazquez, Santa Fe Springs, Calif.


Dear MARIA:

Well, this sure was a puzzle. We could tell you were alive, but trying to untangle this was going to be tough. You said the people at the DMV couldn’t correct it; we found out that’s because they get their records electronically from the state Department of Public Health, rather than entering in the data themselves.

We got in touch with the press office at the state DMV, and they were able to connect with counterparts at the health department. There, the vital statistics department was able to locate the incorrect “deceased” marker on your file and correct it. After that, the DMV folks arranged for you to come in to your local office and get an expedited, updated driving record, so you and your husband can go forward with the adoption process.

As for why the record was wrong to begin with, no one was able to say. You wondered whether the identity thief who had plagued you for so long had perhaps died while carrying false ID with your name. We were told that’s plausible, but no one knows for sure. (You told us that in addition to opening false accounts under your name, someone had also tried to enlist in the Army Reserves using your name, and that the ID theft issues had persisted for several years.)

Either way, we’re thrilled that you’ve been brought back to life!

Your issue reminds us that identity theft is the fastest-growing consumer complaint in the country and that millions of Americans have had brushes with ID thieves. Here’s some advice to help prevent identity theft – or clean up an identity theft mess:

  • Make sure to look at your credit reports at least one a year. All consumers are entitled to a free report from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com. Review the reports carefully and dispute any accounts that were illegally opened.


  • It’s important to catch any problems before you need to do something important, like refinance your mortgage or get a car loan.


  • If you’ve been victimized, contact the business where the account was opened, file a police report and set up fraud alerts with the three credit reporting bureaus. Go to IdentityTheft.gov for a checklist of everything you need to do. That website also has info for people who’ve been victims of data breaches.




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Stephanie Zimmermann

Most people groan at the thought of spending hours on the phone with a customer service call center, but Stephanie Zimmermann relishes the chance to slice through red tape.

Before joining ABC News, Stephanie untangled consumer problems at the Chicago Sun-Times, where her popular column recovered more than $1.4 million in refunds, credits, and merchandise for consumers in the Windy City.

Stephanie, who lives in Chicago, has also worked at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and has bachelor's and master's degrees from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. But most of all, Stephanie is a consumer who hates to see anyone else get ripped off.