A senior in Surprise says a college took her state tax refund to pay a tuition debt. She says she's never been a student at the school.
Real identity theft is so rampant in Arizona that it's not uncommon for some people to say it happened when it really didn't - just to try to get out of paying a debt. But a 72-year-old special ed teacher with multiple degrees? That doesn't seem like the profile of a liar and a cheat, but Maricopa Community Colleges wasn't so sure.
"I have a master's degree is healthcare management and a master's in special education," Pat Callanan said.
Callanan says she's now going for her doctorate degree. The special ed teacher says she's never been to a two-year college. But in April 2012 she got a strange letter from Maricopa Community Colleges (MCC). It said she had an outstanding balance of $539 and her account was overdue.
"They told me I had taken two classes back in 2007 and they want their money. I said I never took a class at Rio Salada or any other schools in Maricopa County," Callanan said.
It was a clear-cut case of ID theft - that's what Callanan told the MCC. She says they didn't believe her so she demanded verification of the debt.
"If you have my name and my ID, I want to see who signed it, because it wasn't me, and they would not cooperate at all," Callanan said.
To make matters worse, MCC informed Callanan they were confiscating her Arizona income tax refund. State agencies can do that when you're delinquent on a debt. Sure enough, Callanan got a letter from the Arizona Department of Revenue saying it sent her $328 tax refund directly to MCC and she still owes them another $211.
"I couldn't believe that actually happened, I mean you hear about identity theft. You hear about it, you've done a lot of stories on Channel 5 about it, and I thought, no, this can't be happening," Callanan said.
Callanan even hired a lawyer to send MCC a letter demanding verification of the debt and the return of the refund. It's been a year and Callanan says MCC has never responded.
"I want them to return the money that's rightfully mine," Callanan said.
Officials at MCC tell CBS 5 News they were and still are skeptical of Callanan's story mainly because she never filed an official police report on the alleged identity theft. Callanan says she didn't have the time to do it.
In the end, M-C-C decided to wipe out the remaining balance owed and refund Callanan most of the state refund it confiscated.
They say even though there is no proof she was a victim of identity theft, they wanted to do this as a goodwill gesture. CBS 5 News would like to thank MCC for its extensive help in bringing this case to a close.
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