For months, identity theft victim Karen Lodrick struggled with drained bank accounts and new credit cards opened in her name.
It all started when someone had broken into the mailboxes at her San Francisco apartment. The thief had taken at least five pieces of Karen’s mail: two new debit / credit cards that Karen’s bank had sent (that she had not requested), the PIN codes to activate them, and a certificate of deposit statement that contained her Social Security number. The thief also had gotten a hold of Karen’s driver’s license number, and used it to make a counterfeit license (using Karen’s number but the thief’s picture).
With that much information in the wrong hands, an identity thief can ruin your financial life. Similar to playing Whac-A-Mole (though of course not nearly as fun), Karen would close one fraudulent account only to have several more pop up in its place. At times Karen had no money in her accounts to pay her bills or buy groceries. It was a nightmare that lasted for months.
Spotting the culprit
Only 1 in 700 identity thieves is ever caught, according to a national Gartner survey. So imagine Karen’s surprise when she encountered the woman who had stolen her identity – in a Starbucks, no less.
Karen recognized the thief by her striking fur-trimmed coat – the same one the thief was wearing when an ATM camera caught her withdrawing hundreds of dollars from one of Karen’s accounts. Realizing she had been spotted, the identity thief took off running. After a heated foot chase through the streets of San Francisco and a frantic phone call to 911, a cop finally arrived on the scene and made the arrest.
A happy ending?
Think that’s the end of the story? That justice will be served and all is right with the world? Not quite. Not even close, actually.
Even in the rare event that an ID thief is discovered and arrested, the penalties for identity-related crimes are too weak to make a real difference or deter future thefts.
For instance, Maria Nelson (Karen Lodrick’s identity thief) was found and arrested, and she pleaded guilty to one felony count of identity theft. Even though she had over 60 priors spread across three different counties, the judge only sentenced her to 44 days of county jail time (that she had already served), plus three year’s of probation.
“I can’t believe it,” Karen said after the sentencing. “I went through six months of hell, and she’s going to get probation? She was on probation when she victimized me. Obviously, probation’s not helping.”
Karen, on the other hand, is still suffering. It seems that Maria sold her identity on the black market, and others now have her SSN, driver’s license number, and current bank and credit card account information. Because Karen’s SSN seems to be in the hands of multiple fraudsters, she must stay constantly vigilant. Karen has learned to carefully check all of her credit reports and bank statements for signs of fraud. (For more tips on overcoming identity theft, check out the Spend On Life ID Theft Recovery Kit.)
To share her experience, Karen started a blog – FightingBackNow.com. Through it, she advocates stricter punishment for identity thieves and educates others about protecting themselves from the increasingly widespread crime.