Stealing an Identity
She pulled into an empty parking garage in Midtown a little after 7 one Friday morning, shoved her purse under some file folders on the floor of the passenger side, got out of the car, locked it and, with key ring in hand, went up to the second floor of the adjacent building. There she picked up some papers that had been left for her and returned to her car. This is the way she starts most of her workdays. The entire process took three and a-half minutes, as it usually does.
She was back inside the car when she noticed the shattered glass on the passenger side. Her first thought was, "Did I slam the door that hard?" Then she saw that the folders had been rearranged. Even before she reached for it, she knew her purse would be gone.
"I hopped out of the car, ran around to the other side, then ran up to the street and looked to see if I could see anybody," she recalls. She was scared, but she was mad, too. "I looked around in the bushes to see if somebody had dropped the purse. Then I called the police."
By 9 a.m. she was back home, making arrangements to have her window repaired. She closed her bank accounts, de-activated her ATM card, cancelled her credit cards and went to get a new driver's license. She had to cancel a weekend trip her two sons had been looking forward to, but she understood that things could have been much worse. She'd lost $12 in cash; only one credit card charge — $17 at a gas station not far from the crime scene — had gone through. She'd had a harrowing morning, but she was unhurt. She ended the day with a trip to Wal-Mart to buy a new purse.
Tammy Bailey, chief financial officer of Trend Publications, is pretty savvy about money matters, but even she was astonished by subsequent events.
Things were quiet for a couple of weeks. Warily, she continued her early-morning pickups, carrying her new purse with her. Then she got the first call from the bank. Someone was having a party - using her identity and her checks. "This person had been in Biloxi, Miss., writing checks to every casino there," she says. The casino checks were for $700 or $800 each. She got on the phone and started calling the casinos.
It was a man in one of the security offices who helped open her eyes to what was going on. "I told him I didn't understand how she [security cameras would confirm the perpetrator was female] could cash big checks without an ID."
"She has an ID," she was told. "She has a driver's license with your name, address, phone number and license number."
"Does she look like me?" Tammy asked. No, the man explained. The woman had apparently obtained a counterfeit license using Tammy's information and her own photo. Illegal, but easily accomplished over the Internet.
With the phony license, the security guy surmised, the woman went to the casinos and asked for VIP check-writing privileges. Based on Tammy's good credit report, the casinos allowed the woman to write up to a thousand dollars worth of checks each day. She hung around Biloxi for a couple of days, then moved north toward Vicksburg and Tunica. Within a month of the purse-stealing she had cashed about $12,000 in bad checks at several casinos and a couple of Wal-Marts. Some of the checks were Tammy's; some were newly made.
The spending spree lasted a couple of weeks then tapered off: Presumably, the thieves have moved on to the next stolen identity. Or so Tammy hopes.
She's not responsible for the bad checks, but there's been a lot of aggravation — every "bounced" check requires a separate round of paperwork. She figures that every six months for the rest of her life she will have to get a copy of her credit report to make sure there are no marks against her. And it's a little scary having somebody out there knowing so much about her — where she lives, where she works, what her children look like.
Oh, one other thing. When Tammy went to her local Wal-Mart to replace the stolen purse, the store refused to take the counter checks her bank issued her for the new account. After all, there are a lot of dishonest people out there.