Willie Frank Cannon vividly remembers the last time he saw his childhood friend, Larry Cobb, Jr. in November 2009.
You could practically consider us brothers, you seen him, you seen me, Willie said of their longtime friendship.
During their encounter in 2009, Larry told Willie hed just been arrested and posted bond.
They made plans to meet up the next day, but Larry never showed up.
I get a call from my mom stating that, ‘Youve got a ton of letters here from lawyers wanting to represent you for your recent arrest,’ Willie told Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer. Instantly, I knew it was [Larry].
It was also Larry caught using Willies name in Clayton County in 2007, in Henry County in 2011, and four separate times in the city of Atlanta.
I never understand how you could pull somebody over, let alone arrest someone and they have no identification on them, said Willie.
A Channel 2 Action News investigation found at least five different mug shots showing Larrys face, booked into the Fulton County Jail under his friend Willies name.
We see it a good bit and I know it happens elsewhere, said Henry County Sheriffs Department Chief Deputy David Foster.
Foster still isnt sure exactly how it happened in Henry County, where Larry was arrested, went to court and pleaded guilty — all under Willies name.
When no one reported for probation, a warrant was issued in Willies name. Willie was pulled over and arrested.
We immediately identified that this is not the correct subject and we immediately released him, said Foster.
But sorting out the records took longer.
It is very difficult because its a lot of paperwork thats generated between the courts, the clerks office, the sheriffs office, said Foster.
In Fulton County, the two friends are still so intertwined, both sets of records pop up when you type either of their names into the jail or courthouse websites.
It can be fixed, I think you have to have people in place who care to fix it, said Willie, who has been trying to get the situation corrected for years.
To think you might go to jail because someone else uses your identity is scary and wrong, said State Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell) after Channel 2 shared Willies story.
Its unconscionable what happened to this young man. We need to fix that problem, said Albers.
Fleischer found that at least 12 other states already have their own system, and nearly a decade ago the FBI created the Identity Theft File.
The federal system assigns victims a unique password; without it a fraudster cannot get charged under your name.
The problem is, almost no one knows the system exists.
The US Department of Justice said the following in an identity theft prevention audit:
We believe the FBI should conduct a full evaluation of the usefulness of the NCIC Identity Theft File to determine its continued viability. If the FBI determines that the Identity Theft File is a valuable part of its identity theft enforcement efforts, it should ensure that all FBI Special Agents and Victim Specialists receive training on the file and that the file is being populated. The FBI should also develop additional outreach plans to ensure that state and local law enforcement agencies are aware of the file’s existence.
Only 13,341 victims are registered out of 13.1 million ID thefts last year.
Were going to explore both options. Whatevers best to help Georgia citizens, said Albers, who vowed to work with partners at the GBI to come up with a solution.
Its a big problem. We see it on a daily basis. We average about two to three identity thefts a day, says MC Cox, chief investigator for the State Court of Clayton County.
Cox said many of the cases begin with a traffic stop of a driver who has a suspended license or active warrant, or they’re on probation and cannot afford to get in trouble under their own name, so they give the name of a friend or family member.
They figure the family member will get over it and the family member will be less likely to prosecute them, says Cox.
Cox suggested patrol officers should ask more questions during traffic stops, especially if the driver is not carrying any identification.
He said jails should also pay more attention to inmates who insist theyve been a victim of identity theft.
In some cases, they may not even be aware of a case or warrant in their name.
Channel 2 Action News found another 2008 case in Clayton County where Larry was convicted of using Willies name.
Im still sitting here in shock now about Clayton, because Im like how on earth did I not know that? said Willie.
After our interview, the Henry County Sheriffs Office offered to help get Willie entered into that federal database, but the damage is already done.
Hes cost me more than you can imagine, Willie said of his former friend.
Larry finally landed in state prison in 2013.
But twice since then, Willie has been pulled over, arrested and spent days in jail because of a Fulton County warrant still in Willies name, for a crime Larry committed.
The same lady who helped me the last time [at the Fulton County Jail] knew exactly who I was and Ill never forget she said, What are you doing?’ Willie recalled. I said, ‘Im back down here for the case that you fixed!’
Clearly the problem wasnt fixed, leaving Willie in constant fear.
If Im driving now, and the police get behind me, I know Im going to jail. No one should have to ride around like that.