WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) A former Wichita woman falls victim to student-loan identity theft, losing half of her income-tax refund to collect on student loan debt from a school in New Hampshire she never attended.
Wednesday, Eyewitness News spoke with the woman about how this happened and how to make sure this doesn't happen to you.
Kristen Hoggatt, now living in Tulsa, says she was expecting a tax return of about $4,300. Instead, about half of what she expected went to a debt for a student loan she never applied for.
"Someone got student loans under my name and my social security number and they took my money," Hoggatt says. "They took $2,600 out of our federal income taxes.
She was told someone applied for the student loan in 2017 at a New Hampshire college. Hoggatt says no only did she not attend college, she's never even been to New Hampshire.
"I've only lived in two places my entire life, Kansas and then Tulsa, and these people are from Georgia and going to New Hampshire," she says. "I don't know. I'm just wondering if maybe I have a degree now that I don't know about."
Hoggatt says she has no idea how or if she'll get her money back.
"Yeah, I have to jump through hoops, you know, and prove all this information just to verify that it's me," she says. "I can't even get into the FASFA account the person created."
Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the National Identity Theft Resource Center says identity theft can come as a shock to unsuspecting people.
"Its really surprising for victims when they don't even know that these loans or credit cards or other accounts are outstanding, much less they're (late)," she says. "This can be just another facet, another consequence of tax identity theft."
Velasquez offers tips to avoid identity theft. She says you can start by strengthening passwords and privacy settings. She says you should handle identifying information with care and don't share information with just anyone.
You should also shred documents before throwing them away, she says, and check your credit-card reports regularly. Velasquez says you can freeze your credit for free if you believe someone's stolen your identity.