OCALA, Fla. – A Central Florida mother believes someone stole the identity of her mentally challenged son to obtain student loans in his name.
Now the federal government is threatening to garnish Timothy Boisvert's wages from his job as a supermarket clerk until the $2,197 debt is settled, records show.
"I think this is identity theft," said Timothy's mother, Karen Boisvert. "And I think there are a lot more people this has happened to."
[IDENTITY THEFT: 10 things to do if your identity is stolen]
About two years ago, Boisvert said she received a letter from a collection agency claiming her son had defaulted on a student loan.
"I thought it was a scam," Boisvert said. "I just tossed it aside, put it through the shredder and didn't pay much attention to it."
When the overdue notices kept arriving, Boisvert discovered that someone had used her son's name and Social Security number to obtain a student loan to enroll in a private school that offers online education courses.
"He doesn't read," Boisvert said. "How are you going to go college when you can't read?"
Timothy Boisvert, 38, suffered more than 20 strokes in his first few months of life and has intellectual disabilities, according to his mother.
Although Boisvert graduated from Wellington High School with a special diploma, he did not pursue higher education and instead spends his time competing in Special Olympics and working.
"I bag groceries at Publix and I say 'Hi' to all the customers," said Boisvert, who also cleans restrooms at an interstate weigh station.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Treasury seized Boisvert's $276 income tax refund from the Internal Revenue Service and applied it to the outstanding loan balance, records show. Boisvert's mother fears the same will happen with her son's 2018 tax refund.
Recently the Department of Education notified Boisvert that his employers will soon be ordered to withhold 15 percent of his income to satisfy the defaulted loan.
"They want to garnish his wages," Karen Boisvert said. "And when you don't make a lot of money, you need all the wages you can get."
Student aid fraud has increased
Between 2009 and 2012, student aid fraud cost the federal government nearly $200 million, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Inspector General.
The FBI believes that type of fraud has grown in recent years because of the increasing number of schools offering low-cost and online education programs.
When an individual is approved for federal student aid, the government sends the funds directly to the learning institution.
However, after the school deducts the cost of tuition, the remaining funds are typically remitted to the loan applicant for supplies, books and living expenses, according to the FBI.
According to paperwork provided to Karen Boisvert by the collection agency, someone applied for student aid under her son's name to enroll at American Public University System, an online school.
"American Public University System takes identify theft and its implications very seriously and we fully understand and support her efforts to resolve the matter as it pertains to our institution," Associate Vice President Brian Muys said.
Muys told News 6 a dedicated staff works with the Department of Education to identify and prevent identity fraud.
[REPORT FRAUD: Possible student loan fraud can be reported through hotline]
"While we rely in part on the Department’s own validation measures to establish an applicant’s identity, we also proactively and independently evaluate applicants based on submitted documentation and other responses, including college transcripts, high school affirmations, Institutional Student Information Reports and other federal and institutional application data," Muys said.
According to Muys, the university also looks for groups of students with common physical and internet addresses, including newly admitted students, to identify possible misuse.
"In addition, we follow a multi-disbursement process to discourage such potentially fraudulent behaviors," Muys said.
News 6 investigation raises questions about loan application
Someone using Timothy Boisvert's name and Social Security number applied for federal student aid in October 2014, according to a copy of the loan application his mother said she obtained from the collection agency.
The application stated Boisvert lived in an apartment near the University of Florida in Gainesville.
However, he and his mother insist he was residing at the family's home in Ocala in 2014 and has never lived in Gainesville.
Boisvert's mother said she did not recognize the phone number and email address listed on the loan application that reportedly belonged to her son.
News 6 noticed other inconsistencies with the application that raise questions as to why the student aid was approved.
As part of the loan application, the applicant is required to list the contact information for parent or legal guardian to act as a reference. However, no such people are included on the application.
Instead, the paperwork lists two names who are each identified as being a "friend:" Adrian King and Samantha Blunt.
"I've never heard of them before," Timothy Boisvert said.
The phone numbers listed on the loan application for King and Blunt are currently not in service.
News 6 located a different phone number for King, who confirmed he once lived at the Gainesville address listed under his name on Boisvert's loan application but denied knowing Boisvert.
"I've never heard of him," King told News 6.
News 6 was not immediately able to identify anyone named Samantha Blunt who lived in Gainesville in recent years.
When a News 6 reporter stopped by the home address listed on the loan application for Blunt, an unidentified woman who answered the door said she did not know Blunt or Boisvert.
"The government needs to put more guidelines (for loans) that are more restrictive than what they have now," Karen Boisvert said.
Due to privacy laws, representatives with the U.S. Department of Education said they could not immediately discuss Boisvert's situation with News 6 until the family granted the agency written permission to do so.
The federal agency's Office of Inspector General investigates allegations of student aid fraud.
Karen Boisvert said she has requested a hearing with the collection agency to dispute the debt.
After News 6 began investigating the matter, Boisvert contacted American Public University System.
"The head of our Financial Aid Compliance and Review team has been back in touch to offer further assistance," Muys said.
Click here to report possible student aid fraud.
To learn more about what you should do if your identity is stolen, click here.