When a thief snatched the purse of a prominent government official’s wife while she was at her neighborhood coffee shop, the world was reminded that such a small crime could lead to bigger issues – like identity theft.
It’s no secret that identity theft continues to be a common form of fraud among the masses. Every day more cases are reported, and more identity theft rings are busted around the world. In this case, the victim was Anna Bernanke, wife of Ben Bernanke, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve.
According to an Aug. 28 article published in The Wall Street Journal, “Bernanke Falls Victim to Identity Theft,” the crime occurred last year. Ben Bernanke reported the crime immediately and alerted his bank and credit card companies, report WSJ staff writers Jon Hilsenrath and Brent Kendall. His quick actions enabled him to recoup the stolen money.
The thief was later identified as George Lee Reid, who has a warrant out for his arrest. According to the WSJ article, “Reid told detectives he made as much as $50,000 a day on the scams.” While the initial charges against him in Washington were dropped, the WSJ reports a broader case against him is currently being pursued.
The WSJ says the newer case goes after a wider identity-theft ring that began in early 2007 and continues. U.S. attorneys filed a complaint against Reid and eight others in a U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., in June. The complaint said “the basis of the [thieves’] scheme was to use stolen personal identifying information, bank and bank record information, personal checks, and other access devices belonging to individual victims, to impersonate those victims at various banks throughout the country.” They stole personal information by pickpocketing, mail- box theft, and even through planted individuals at businesses, according to the WSJ.
The Bernanke case was one of 500 separate ones traced to this ring. The ring members followed the same strategy in bilking all their victims. They’d forge a check from one victim – $900 in the Bernankes’ case – deposit that check into the account of another victim and then steal a much larger amount from that second victim using other stolen identities. These schemes are indicative of many more that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has listed in its 2008 Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book. The FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network (CSN) has the responsibility of annually collecting consumer complaint data from the FTC and numerous other agencies and disseminating the information in this report.
The 2008 report contains a few significant changes from the previous year. For example, the complaint data that appears in some of the graphs has been expanded to not only include the traditional identity theft and fraud information classifications, but also a classification simply titled “other” for data that falls outside the norm. This data covers deceptive practices relating to banks and lenders; clothing, textiles, and jewelry; credit bureaus; information furnishers; report users; credit cards; grants; home-repair and improvement products; real estate; telecom equipment and mobile services; television and electronic media; third-party creditor debt collection; and video games.
The complaint data regarding identity theft and fraud has also been updated in the 2008 report, providing a more accurate recording. For example, in 2007 a total of 555,472 fraud and 258,427 identity theft complaints were reported. In 2008, those figures were revised to 577,801 and 259,266, respectively. Some reporting agencies don’t transfer their complaints to the CSN until after the end of the year and, as a result, they’re not included the annual report for that year.