ID Theft, the new small talk

I had lunch this week with the CEO of a mid-sized Silicon Valley-based security company. At one point, we started talking about identity theft, and he surprised me by telling me that his identity had been stolen, by a gang of Bay Area fraudsters who use the data from their victims to buy big ticket items that they then sold at area flea markets.  I then told him my tale, which involved a bookkeeper at TechTV, where I worked briefly in late 2001 and early 2002, in the depths of the media depression. Her favorite trick was to create an extra paycheck for some executive and funnel it to an account she had set up, and it worked well: she took nearly $700,000, and nobody ever caught the extra money.

In my case, she used a different technique: she created a fake employee with my home address but not quite my name and not quite my security number, and paid that ‘person’ about $75,000, all after I had left the company. Eventually, the IRS came calling me for unpaid taxes, and I had to jump through a few hoops to prove that I wasn’t at fault. I went through less pain than my CEO lunchmate, who estimates he, his wife and his assistant spent close to 200 hours cleaning up his problem, mostly trying to cancel and replace credit cards (some stores simply refused to let him open a new one, even though he was not at fault).

I was reminded of another recent conversation, with a woman whose children go to the same childcare as my kids.  Someone was using her online banking account to pay bills that weren’t hers, and she was having to get that straightened out.  It seems to me that it won’t be long before we’ll use our various ID theft experiences as chit chat when we run out of things to say at parties.

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