The New York Post by ALEX GINSBERG - September 8, 2009
Instead, Rachel Lindor is a college dropout, sharing a room with her sister in Brooklyn and working for $9.25 an hour -- the victim of a debt-collection paperwork snafu that destroyed her dream, according to a shocking suit filed last week. Lindor, 23, was a junior at Penn State looking forward to medical school when things came crashing down after a $4,352.17 debt was wrongly attributed to her. "My plan was go to Penn State, finish college, get a job, move out, get a car . . . Now, I can't get into med school," Lindor said. "They have ruined my life." She first realized she was in trouble in fall 2006, when her student loans were canceled because she had been sued, without her knowledge, in Brooklyn Civil Court for the debt. It turns out that a "Raqul Lindor" had racked up thousands with AT&T Wireless. That debtor eventually came to be associated with Rachel's Flatbush address and yet another person's Social Security number. A collection agency, Palisade Collection, hired a law firm, Forster & Garbus, to go after "Raqul," which wound up, because of the snafu, being Rachel. In March 2005, unbeknownst to Rachel, the court entered a default judgment against her. A year and five months later, it was on her credit report. An odyssey of dead-end phone calls and red tape followed. Distracted, stressed out and growing penniless, she struggled to keep from being evicted from her apartment. Penn State let her sit in on classes without registering, but they terminated her from her work-study cafeteria job. "I'm thinking, I don't have money to go back to school," she said. "My credit-card bills are piling up. And I still have the civil judgment on my credit report. I'm crying. This is it. My life is over."
Finally, Forster & Garbus admitted in writing that the person it was looking to collect from had a different Social Security number -- though the firm never explained why, despite the discrepancy, it sued Rachel. Armed with the letter, Lindor got her credit report cleaned up -- but too late. Being broke during the fall 2006 semester, Lindor had failed to pay a single credit-card bill. What's more, she had been barred from taking some of her finals because she wasn't officially enrolled. Her GPA plummeted to 1.98, just under the 2.0 student lenders require. Now she's working as an assistant at Borough of Manhattan Community College, sharing a two-bedroom apartment with five relatives and forking over $300 a month to repay $80,000 in student loans -- for a degree she doesn't have. "That's what kills me," she said. Her lawyer, Kevin Mallon, said it wasn't a case of identity theft because ID thieves swipe personal information that matches. "If you're an identity thief, you steal a name and a Social that go together," Mallon said. "That's how you get a credit card or a phone account." So Mallon has gone after everybody, the credit bureau TransUnion, as well as Palisade, AT&T and Forster & Garbus, to figure out who was sloppy. Of the defendants, only Forster & Garbus agreed to comment. Lawyer Ron Forster said the "Raqul" account was closed and no money ever collected. "We deal with this on a regular basis," he said, referring to inaccurate information. "Inevitably, it's only that 1 percent or less that creates the problem, but that's all it takes." email@example.com