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Hiawatha Couple Fights for Tougher Iowa Identity Theft Law

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HIAWATHA, Iowa -- At this very moment, someone could be racking up credit card debt, buying a house or even committing crimes with on someone else's name, and he or she wouldn't even know it until it's too late.

In this age of cell phones and computers, it is very easy for identity thieves to get anyone's name, social security number or credit card numbers.

An Iowa Senate Committee is once again considering a bill to overhaul Iowa's identity theft laws with stricter penalties. This big push isn't from police or credit card companies but from a couple in Eastern Iowa.

For years, Bob and JoAnn Hartle enjoyed the quiet life in Iowa. More than fifteen hundred miles away another Bob Hartle was living a very different life.

"It was just ridiculous," Bob Hartle said.

A man from Hartle's home state of Arizona stole his identity. The couple said they realized the problem when they got a suspicious phone call, which triggered them to do a little digging.

"We hadn't been checking our credit report regularly as most people don't and so when we got our credit report, we had 27 items on there that were fraud and then we added it up and it added up to over $114,000 worth of fraud," Hartle said.

He said the man stole his good name in 1988, but they didn't realize it for about six years. In that time, the thief used their names to open multiple bank accounts and get credit cards and drivers licenses. The identity thief used a fake name with police too and that also caught up with Hartle.

"I was also a convicted felon for ten years...He was arrested for DUI, drug possession, he was a convicted felon, arrested in possession of a firearm, all in my name," Hartle said. "It all came out in my name so it all showed up on me."

It took Bob and JoAnn about ten years to get their credit and life back to normal. Ever since, they've been fighting to rewrite identity theft laws to give victims more rights.

"We talked together about it and wanted to do something together to get the laws passed if we could because nobody should go through this like we did," JoAnn Hartle said. "It was a complete nightmare."

The two worked with several lawmakers to get the Arizona and federal laws changed. They keep the plaques on the wall to show their success. Now the couple is turning to Iowa legislators.

"That's what our goal is, to help victims," JoAnn Hartle said.

Iowa has an identity theft law, but in many cases it is only a misdemeanor. The couple wants to make any act of identity theft a felony.

"The identity theft law should be the stealing of your good name and the ruining of your good name, and that should be the crime, and it should be a felony," Bob Hartle said.

The chair of the senate judiciary, Senator Rob Hogg, is among those working on the tougher identity theft law in Iowa. He expects some push back from lawmakers who will say this will create more criminals in an already crowded jail and prison system.

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