Joyce Corrales says she has spent her life fighting to protect her younger sister, Jolean Booth Costello.
"I would never do anything to hurt her," said Corrales, a Valley woman. "I don't understand why she would do this to me."
Corrales' nightmare started in 1989, when Costello was arrested for injuring an elderly person with a weapon. Costello gave police her sister's name, date of birth and social security number. Somehow, Corrales became victimized by the same system designed to protect people like her while her sister slipped through the Texas prison system, spending the last 22 years under Corrales' identity.
"It's a nightmare. It's really a nightmare," Corrales said. "I always worry when I do get a job that this is going to come out."
Corrales has been turned down for jobs, housing and faced embarrassing questions because background checks reveal she is a convicted felon, though she has never been arrested or found guilty of a crime.
Corrales has found it hard to convince a potential employer or landlord of her innocence when the actions of her sister have branded her for life.
Having your identity restored is virtually impossible, according to ID theft experts, once it has been entered into the national system as another person, where it remains an "also known as" (AKA).
This unusual form of identity theft might seem rare. But a yearlong CBS 5 Investigation uncovered instances across the United States.
Claude Dean Hull is a serial rapist who left a trail of victims from California to Arizona and Florida. Yet, he's listed on the Florida Department of Corrections website as Alan Hoff - an alias he plucked from a wallet he had stolen while on the run.
In Arizona, the problems are just beginning for Ryan Twyman after his best friend Jason Tasker gave police Twyman's name when he was arrested in Flagstaff for a series of burglaries, grand theft auto and felony flight.
"He was my son's best man in February," said Stephanie Twyman, Ryan's mother. "He was basically a friend of the family. My mom knew him. All the kids knew him."
Less than 24 hours after Tasker's arrest, police were able to determine he used his best friend's identity, but the problems were only beginning for Twyman.
"My husband got on the computer and called Coconino (County Sheriff's Office) and told them you have the wrong guy," said Twyman. "That's Jason Tasker not Ryan Twyman."
But the damage was irreversible and "this arrest will follow him forever," said Rex Gilliand, operations commander of the Coconino County Sheriff's Office.
Local police are the first in a series of checks and balances aimed at verifying a suspect's true identity.
"To a large degree we rely on old-school investigative methods as well as modern technology," Gilliand said.
All arrests in Arizona are entered into a central clearinghouse at the Department of Public Safety.
"It's on a regular basis the majority of criminals will use more than one name," said Amber Sliwimski, a fingerprint technician with DPS.
Fingerprint techs evaluate thousands of fingerprints every week, manually matching up what the computer will not. But once a person's name is in the system, it will remain there forever, regardless of whether local police correct it.
"If they give us a wrong name and we determine in the future who they really are, it's always going to be listed as an AKA as to who they said they were the first time they were arrested," Sliwimski said.
ID theft victims will remain just that - victims. Meanwhile, attempts to reveal the true identity of the real criminals continue in the court and at prison.
Despite these measures, people still slip through the system.
Corrales has kept every letter her sister wrote her from prison during the last 22 years. Some letters are heartbreaking.
"Joyce, I really do want us to be sisters again," Corrales read from her sister's letter. "I have truly missed you and I truly love you."
Another letter might be considered a confession.
"To whom this may concern," Corrales reads. "My name is not Joyce Ann Braxton. My real name is Jolean Booth Costello."
But all these letters add up to a lifetime of pain and embarrassment because her sister didn't just steal Corrales' identity, she stole her life.
Copyright 2012 CBS 5 (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.