by Horace J. Digby
My friend "Fred" (not his real name) has started dating again. It was his wife's idea. Fred was nervous at first, unable to carry on conversations, or even decide what to wear. And this was before he started dating.
After dating, Fred always felt sad and alone, like those mechanical-singing-fish-wall-plaques all the stores were trying to sell a couple of years ago. Fred felt awkward, not knowing how to answer questions the girl's father would ask. Questions like: "What's your favorite color?" "Do you have children?" "What is your bank account number and password?" Which brings us to the point of this article, or at least the point of the title–Identity Theft.
Identity theft is the crime of the new millennium. As the simple story of Fred illustrates nobody is safe from identity theft. After all "Fred" was not his real name. So he must have stole that name from somebody else.
Identity theft is easy for Crooks like Fred. Given today's technology (and we may as well give it to them, before they steal it) criminals have grown tired of boosting hubcaps and tape decks. Now they want identities. And why not? Identities are light. They don't take up much room. They are easy to hide if you get searched. And it is hard to list three people who really know how to protect their identity without including Zorro, Batman and the Lone Ranger. And they all wore masks.
Every day we read about some scoundrel snatching up poorly protected identities. People leave them on the shelves in public restrooms, or check them in the coat room at lunch and whoosh they are gone. One friend (who shall remain nameless) used to tie his identity loosely with a bow to a bike rack in the park. Then one day it was gone. If he had been more careful, he wouldn't have to remain nameless. He have a name. Now when he buys a sandwich at the deli, they can't call his name. He has to eat at delis where they just give you a number–and forget about renting videos. He tried to join the Army but when they got to the part in the oath about, ". . . I (state your name) . . ." he had to leave. It has been hard on his family too. Especially when he gets phone calls. The upside, however, is now he gets an unlisted number for free.
It is tough to catch identity thieves and nearly impossible to prosecute them–because nobody can identify them. A leading criminologist (who asked not to be identified) reports that most identity theft victims don't even notice their identity has been taken for two or three days. Even then, when they realize it is missing, they usually just assume it is misplaced, with their glasses, and will show up again when they need it. By that time the thief has probably unloaded their identity and left town.
People usually first realize their identity has been pilfered when they try to check out a library book, or attend an AA meeting and can't identity themselves.
"I can place my face," victims often say, with the desperate look of someone who has just locked his car keys in the trunk, "but I just can't recall my name."
The discovery often comes while looking at family pictures. "Who's that fat guy with aunt Agnes?" they ask, not recognizing themselves.
A poster where I bank claims that identity theft occurs fourteen times a day. Now that may not sound like a lot, when you comparing it to more shocking statistics like, "lightning never strikes twice in the same place," or "objects in mirrors may be closer than they appear." But you need to stop and consider that those are not actually statistics, so they don't count. If you still think fourteen times a day is not much, just try drinking a pint of water fourteen times a day and you will get the point (and if you do get the point please let me know, because other readers have been asking.)
A woman from Davenport, Iowa had multiple personalities until a crook stole one. This would have been a good thing if her psychiatrist hadn't needed the money for car payments. Now he has to drive around in his new Cadillac wearing his doctor coat, looking for extra money. In another case, a man riding on a train from Buttonhole, Oregon, to Eider Beach, Colorado, became the victim of identity theft when a woman passenger asked for help with her luggage. The woman's accomplice (known as the "hook" in professional pickpocket circles) dipped his hand into the victim�s pocket and in a flash made off with the other man's identity. The victim didn�t discover this theft until he visited the bar car later and couldn't get anyone to wait on him. Unlike most stories this one has a happy ending. After losing his identity, the victim went on to a successful career in television under the name Ben Stein.
I had my identity stolen while I was researching this article. This guy in a lab coat driving a new Cadillac pulled over and mugged me. He wanted my watch but I didn't have one on, so he settled for my identity. I can tell you first hand, this has been very inconvenient. I called my lawyer but his assistant asked, "Who may I say is calling?" I didn't know what to tell her. Then I had to break the news to my wife. I told her the entire story and she had only one question . . . "Who did you say you were again?" As it turns out, my family likes me better without an identity.
A woman in Boron, California, had her identity stolen twice. The first guy brought it back after two days, which won't surprise anybody who has been to Boron. But the second crook kept her identity and is now using it to store recipes. The woman's husband discovered the crime immediately. He knew something was up when his wife began cleaning and doing house work. The police can't do anything because the husband won't testify. He is afraid his wife will get her old identity back.
They actually caught the crook who stole my identity. But his lawyer convinced the judge that I couldn't be identified as a witness. The crook was convicted but they couldn't decide who to put in jail. The crook was using my identity and I was innocent so it didn't make sense to send him to jail. After all, he was the victim. The judge finally compromised and threw the lawyers in jail.
-- Horace J. Digby --
Winner of the 2005 Robert Benchley Society Award for Humor
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