Many identity theft cases end tragically, and nearly all of them leave the victim feeling angry and violated, but a select few top the scandal-strangeness scale. Amazingly, motivations other than financial gain come in to play for some of these perplexing parables of stolen identity.
Consider the story of Green Bay's Wendy Brown, a 33-year-old mother who attempted to recapture her youth by assuming the identity of her 15-year-old daughter and enrolling in high school. While her ultimate goal included obtaining a high school diploma, it seems her chief motivation lay in a short skirt and a pair of pompoms.
Brown not only matriculated with teenagers and raised her hand in history class, she also joined the cheerleading squad before the start of her first semester. Unfortunately, the check she wrote to pay for her cheerleading uniform bounced, which exposed her scheme and left her with a felony on her record.
Pharmacist Gerald Barnbaum lost his license after he committed Medicaid fraud, but he turned that run of bad luck into a winning streak when he posed as Dr. Gerald Barnes, an actual physician who had no idea another man might use his name to practice medicine.
Barnbaum committed the same offense in the early 1980s, earning himself convictions for involuntary manslaughter and identity theft when one of his unwitting patients died under his care. In 1996, when the law caught up to him the second time, he landed in prison again.
When Todd Davis launched LifeLock, an identity theft protection service, he published his own social security number in an attempt to garner trust in his fledgling company. He claimed he believed in the product with such vehemence that he saw no danger in posting that identifiable information in a public forum.
Unfortunately, his faith might have been misplaced. As of 2010, Davis's identity had been stolen at least 13 times. One enterprising criminal obtained a $500 loan using his number, while another opened a cell phone service account. Collection reports on Davis's credit history provided evidence of the criminal activity.
Dissatisfied with his own family, Frederic Bourdin made a career out of impersonating others in order to find a place in the world. He started by creating characters from whole cloth, but eventually graduated to identity theft, going so far as to present himself to an American family as the son they had lost years previously.
The family bought the deception despite red flags to the contrary, but Bourdin landed himself in prison after a "Hard Copy" reporter smelled a rat and uncovered the truth. He served jail time for similar crimes in later years and has since given up impersonation in favor of starting a family of his own.
One of the most famous identity theft cases involves Frank Abagnale, a career criminal whose sensationalized story graced the silver screen in the 2002 blockbuster hit "Catch Me If You Can" starring Leonardo DiCaprio. He defrauded people and banks in several countries before a disgruntled former lover turned him over to law enforcement.
In another strange twist, Abagnale's experience impersonating pilots, lawyers, doctors, professors and other professionals made him attractive to the FBI, who hired him to teach them his tricks of the trade. He has written two books and educated millions on identity theft and fraud prevention.
Swindler to the Stars
Most identity theft cases involve low-profile cons, but former busboy Abraham Abdallah took his marauding to a whole new level by targeting the richest and most famous people in the United States. His victim roster includes luminaries such as Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg and Larry Ellison.
A fraudulent $7 million transfer from electronics entrepreneur Thomas Siebel's account eventually unraveled Abdallah's scheme. Before then, however, he managed to impersonate financial advisors and obtain bank account data for numerous victims. In fact, his crimes were so extensive that it took law enforcement months to track down all of the fraudulent transactions.
While some of these cases of identity theft seem far-fetched enough for fiction, they actually happened. Since everyone is a potential victim, consumers must guard their financial and personal data by taking advantage of identity theft protection. Software programs and other services allow consumers to track their financial lives and to uncover unauthorized activity.