KEARNS — Francisco Hernandez got quite a shock when he received a paycheck last fall. Hundreds of dollars were missing, garnished from his wages without his knowledge for a debt he didn’t owe.
When it happened a second time, he reached out to the KSL Investigators to find out what was going on.
'Mistakes happen on occasion'
In October, after $643.03 was taken from his paycheck, Hernandez discovered the Law Office of Edwin Parry had obtained a court order to garnish his wages.
After some digging, he found the garnishment was issued to the wrong person. The right person had a different first name and different date of birth, but he did live on the same street as Hernandez.
“It’s an error because it’s somebody that has a very similar name as yours,” Hernandez said he was told when he inquired about the garnishment.
The good news for Hernandez is The Law Office of Edwin Parry promised a fix. Eventually they cut him a check for the missing $643.03. But the following pay period, another $503 was taken from his paycheck for the same incorrect garnishment.
To better understand the garnishment process, the KSL Investigators reached out to Marilee Richins, Deputy Director of Utah’s Department of Administrative Services. One function of that department is the Office of State Debt Collection.
Richins said while mistakes like this are uncommon, Hernandez should have been told about the garnishment before the money was removed from his paycheck. Companies are required to notify their employee the garnishment has been placed.
“In theory, before the garnishment ever came, there should have been an opportunity for that person to be heard in court in the original judgment,” said Richins. “By the time we get to garnishment, that person should be well aware of this debt.”
“It’s the law that he receives that information,” said Richins. “So, if he didn’t, then there’s a problem.”
Hernandez said he was not given any notice before the money came out of his paycheck.
The KSL Investigators reached out to Hernandez’ employer to find out why he was not notified but did not receive a reply.
Recovering the money
The attorney who filed the garnishment, Edwin Parry, declined an on-camera interview with KSL Investigators, but said the second garnishment was an issue with the payroll processor, ADP.
The spokesperson for ADP said the “release was processed as soon as it was received,” but can take “one to two pay periods to go into effect.”
The experience left Hernandez upset over how easy it was for someone else to take his money.
“It scares me that people can grab my information that easy,” he said.
Multiple laws and regulations exist when placing a garnishment, including proof of service to the debtor, and a 14-day window before the garnishment is enacted so the garnishee has time to dispute it, if appropriate.
It scares me that people can grab my information that easy.
But when a garnishment needs to be released, including in a case of mistaken identity, the KSL Investigators learned laws are lacking.
“How businesses execute on (releasing the garnishment), I don’t know that [the state has] a lot of control over that,” said Richins.
Ultimately, it’s up to the business on how fast a garnishment is released and funds processed for refund.
Richins said if a garnishment is disputed, that money is held in a separate account so it may be released if necessary.
“They should be acting on that really, really quickly. That’s a court order,” said Richins. “And if they’re obeying the law, if the debtor has provided that form [objecting the garnishment] to the employer, then that money is right there and should be instantly available to the debtor.”
After the KSL Investigators reached out on Hernandez’ behalf, he finally received all of his missing funds.
Parry told us his office is very careful to find the right person in a garnishment case, but this situation was unique. Hernandez’ middle and last names are the same as the real garnishee.
Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at firstname.lastname@example.org or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.