Identity Theft: 11 of the Weirdest Cases of ID Theft in the US
The prevalence of identity theft is growing at an alarming rate, affecting approximately 15 million Americans each year. With internet use and all its conveniences being so much a part of the average American’s life, the risk and opportunity for identity theft continues to grow.
Financial losses associated with identity theft now total in excess of $50 billion! The skill level of professional identity thieves and the numerous innovative methods they use continues to grow, creating an imminent need to protect one’s identity.
1 – Amar Singh and the Largest ID Theft Case in US History
The group who brazenly stole the identities of hundreds of people around the world was the brainchild of 33 year-old Amar Singh and three others. Between July 16, 2010 and September 20, 2011 the ring racked up $13 million dollars using stolen identities.
Singh and his wife, Neha Punjani-Singh, 30, ran the scheme like a well-oiled machine. The operation centered on obtaining identities by utilizing both credit card skimming devices and illegal sites that gather personal information from victims.
Most of the skimming occurred in Russia, China and throughout the United States at restaurants and retailers. These establishments may or may not have been aware that card skimming equipment had been used to gather personal information as credit cards were swiped; information that was then used to create new identification cards and credit cards in the name of the victim. Then, the group sent out people to go shopping using these new cards.
It seems incomprehensible that some of the items purchased included exorbitant purchases such as lodgings at five star hotels, rental of luxury vehicles and, as impossible as it seems, a private jet.
Their crime were so egregious that it seemed almost like a shopping party – with no accountability from the merchants, who didn’t bat an eye at any of the unconventional purchases.
So what good would a bunch of retail items be to these identity thieves? Plenty; the goods were sold on the black market, bringing in millions of dollars in cash for the members of the gang.
The audacity of the crime makes one wonder how they were able to operate for over a year without getting caught. But they were caught, and were only one crime ring in the company of four others based in Queens, New York.
A statement from District Attorney Richard Brown indicated that identity theft and credit card fraud are “two of the fastest growing crimes in the United States.”
The victims included both the individuals whose identities were stolen, and the credit card companies who issued cards. As a result of the illegal operations,Singh faced 250 years in prison but entered a plea deal; he was sentenced to 5 to 10 years. His wife was given a conditional discharge sentence – small consolation for the people bilked out of their savings and tasked with clearing their names.
2 – Michelle and the Strange Case of the Transgendered ID Thief
While most cases of identity theft are perpetrated for financial gain, others are committed for more personal reasons.
Such is the case of Brittany Ossenfort, the victim in this tale.
Like many young people in the United States, Ms. Ossenfort needed a roommate. As luck would have it, a young ‘woman’ named “Michelle” needed to find a place to live.
Since Ossenfort met “Michelle” through mutual friends, she felt she couldn’t have found a better option. She couldn’t have been more wrong.
“Michelle” moved in and the girls became fast friends. “Michelle” idolized Ossenfort so much that she dyed her hair and began to style it just like Ossenfort’s. But it doesn’t end there, no; “Michelle” went so far as to get a tattoo on her hand that was the exact same one that Ossenfort had.
The two continued to cohabit for an entire year, and strangely enough, no alarm bells went off in the unsuspecting mind of Brittany Ossenfort – but hey; imitation is the best form of flattery. Except when the imitator is crazy, apparently.
Sometime after “Michelle” moved out, Ossenfort received a strange phone call. The call was from her old roommate asking to be bailed out of jail after being arrested on prostitution charges. But “Michelle,” who was arrested under Ossenfort’s name, also called Ossenfort’s boss to ask for bail money. During the call, “Michelle” told them that she was listed under Ossenfort’s name.
The drama doesn’t end there. After finger printing “Michelle”, AKA Brittany Ossenfort, police discovered that the person they had in custody was actually one Richard Lester Phillips,a trans-gendered man who stood 5’3” and weighed 95 pounds – but this discovery came after he had already spent 12 hours in the women’s dorm.
Known on the streets and to friends as Michelle, Richard had assumed the identity of his old roommate, Brittany Ossenfort, once he got arrested.
Now Ossenfort has an arrest record for prostitution that can be accessed by the public.
Officials stated that that a name given at arrest cannot be changed; it must remain on the arrest record.
The only thing poor Brittany Ossenfort could do was file papers with the court that proved her identity had been stolen, and the arrest record has been noted that the offender arrested is actually Richard Phillips.
A small consolation to Ossenfort, who now has to carry papers to prove she was not arrested for prostitution.
3 – Philip Cummings’ Identity Theft Caper
We hear the words “identity theft” so frequently these days that it’s not hard to conjure up a mental image of the type of person who would commit identity theft.
In your mind, you’re probably seeing a mature adult who is a little bit of a genius, and a person who is greedy, cunning and just doesn’t care who he harms.
However, Philip Cummings, who pulled off the biggest identity theft caper in history, doesn’t appear to have most of those attributes – and yet this fat cat is responsible for one of the most wide-ranging id theft operations of all time.
Back in 1999, Philip Cummings was a young man who worked for a Long Island software company in New York called Teledata Communications Inc. He was employed as a help desk representative, and tasked with providing credit report information from all three credit bureaus to various financial institutions and banks.
An Honest Living Isn’t Enough
However, somewhere along the way, he was approached by Nigerian nationals who were willing to pay 30 dollars for each credit report he could supply them.
Philip Cummings was a young man in his late twenties and obviously not a genius; but apparently, the enticement of such easy money was something he just couldn’t resist – and genius wasn’t required.
He had access to all of the company’s customer ids and passwords, which was all he needed to begin downloading 33,000 credit reports.
In 2000, Philip left the company, but he took a spreadsheet with him containing all the important information he needed to continue downloading credit reports. Vital personal information was sold and used to empty bank accounts, open lines of credit and establish new loans – in addition to destroying the credit histories of thousands of people. It has been estimated that the financial losses suffered by thousands of victims ran between about $50 million to $100 million.
Philip Cummings seemed like your typical help desk technician, and he reportedly regrets his identity theft activities – although, in all likelihood, he merely regrets getting caught. As of 2015, he is still serving a 14-year sentence for wire fraud and conspiracy.
4 – Ferdinand Demara: The Great Imposter
Ferdinand Demara may be the world’s greatest impostor and a master identity thief. His photographic memory and unusually high I.Q. would be of great service to him in many of the schemes he would concoct.
Born on December 21, 1921, a devout Christian, at sixteen Demara left home and spent several years with the Cistercian order of monks.
This experience superficially cemented his faith; but in a clear departure from this faith, Demara would spend a great deal of his life living a lie. In 1941 he joined the army and took the identity of another soldier, Anthony Ignolia with which he promptly deserted.
His next stop was the US Navy, where Demara upped the ante and posed as Dr Robert Linton French. After realizing the good doctor’s credentials wouldn’t garner him the rank he desired, Demara staged a suicide by leaving clothing and a suicide note.
Using the same identity, he joined a Trappist monastery and entered Chicago DePaul University. Thus began a series of positions at colleges where he worked as an instructor.
However, the army caught up with him and he was charged with desertion and spent 18 months in prison.
After his release, Demara joined the Brothers of Christian Instruction posing as Brother John Payne. Under this identity he founded a college in 1951, LaMennais College; which he abandoned when another was named to head the institution. The college continued under that name until 1959 when it was moved to Canton, Ohio and became Walsh College, which is now Walsh University.
Demara then stole the identity of Dr. Joseph C. Cyr – with which he joined the Canadian Navy. This cunning identity theft genius was then faced with casualties.
He treated them, including performing one major surgery simply by looking through medical texts. His photographic memory saved the lives of everyone he treated but the notoriety ousted him as an impostor.
Even after his story appeared in Life magazine, Demara continued to use false identities, working as a prison warden and a teacher.
Interestingly enough, he died working as a counselor using his own name. During his lifetime, he also used false identities to work as a sheriff’s deputy, a Benedictine Monk, a lawyer, a civil engineer, an editor, a child care expert and a cancer researcher.
5 – Social Media-Aided ID Theft
Social media has become something that just about everyone participates in – especially given the mobile device revolution.
However, the frequency of incidents involving social media has made it clear that even something as seemingly harmless as Facebook can be quite dangerous.
Case in point: a young woman named Rebecca Nakutis stole Crystal Trammell’s identity. After setting up a Facebook account and sending herself, friends and family threatening messages, Nakutis was able to successfully have a restraining order issued against Ms. Trammell. Something as simple as setting up a social media account in someone else’s name almost destroyed Crystal Trammell’s future.
So what’s the background that spawned such a nefarious motivation for this crime? Crystal Trammell was involved in a custody battle with Rebecca Nakutis’s husband.
Nakutis gathered the facebook threats she had created herself in order to get a restraining order issued against Trammell, in an effort to discredit her and facilitate the custody dispute in favor of her husband.
Trammell discovered the page and notified the authorities. Charges were filed in Johnston County, North Carolina after the incident was thoroughly investigated with Facebook’s help. Rebecca Nakutis was arrested and charged with identity theft after an 8-month long investigation, because the IP addresses where the Facebook account was created led authorities to Rebecca Nakutis’ location.
Understandably, Trammell feared that the restraining order would hurt her chances of securing a good job, as she was a recent college graduate. She had to spend thousands of dollars in legal fee’s to deal with her identity being stolen, even though, the restraining order against Trammell was eventually dropped.
Social media can be a fun way to connect with people from your past and present. However, it can also be a powerful tool used to steal the identity of another person by creating a page in someone else’s name – without having to use any credible identifying sources.
6 – Targeting the Rich and Famous
According to several of America’s top cyber crimes experts, identity theft is perhaps the fastest rising crime globally.
Annually, around 16 million individuals report being subjects of identity fraud, leading to massive financial losses.
In America alone, over 7% of the adult population are victims of this vicious crime yearly.
One of the biggest cases of identity fraud to have occurred in the US was perpetrated by a New York resident by the name Abraham Abdullah.
As reported by a New York Post, Abraham Abdallah accessed the Internet at a community library, along with Forbes magazine`s “Rich List” to steal the private data of 200 famous people that he used to amass bills (with their names) online.
The 33-year-old is alleged to have obtained massive amounts of money from celebrities such as George Soros, Steven Spielberg, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and former presidential candidate Ross Perot.
During the 6 months of the scam he apparently set up an intricate network of postal service boxes, Web-enabled cell phones and online voice mail services as a way to deceive banks and prevent detection.
Additionally, he utilized couriers to pick-up goods as a way of keeping the police off the radar. The fraud was supposedly only uncovered when an e-mail request to move $10 million from the checking account of the president of CRM – tycoon Thomas Siebel – raised eyebrows at his financial institution, Merrill Lynch.
This tip-off made it possible for investigators to track the electronic trails of theses fraudulent pursuits, which was far bigger than first thought, and gradually enabled them to arrange a drop off point trap – where Abdallah was finally busted.
Quoting unnamed sources, the New York post reported that after his arrest, police found a compiled list of Forbes ‘Richest People in America’ where social security and cell phone numbers, home addresses and account numbers and balances were meticulously written down.
Authorities are also believed to have retrieved ledgers and notebooks, rubber stamps and counterfeit corporate papers. Abraham Abdallah has shown himself to be an incorrigible identity thief and fraudster, having been convicted for numerous smaller fraud-related crimes before his run at the rich and famous.
7 – Israeli Mossad and the Misuse of Tradecraft on the Australian Guests
Australian Nicole McCabe was in for the shock of her life when she discovered that her passport had been used to carry out an assassination of Hamas chief Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a ranking member of the Palestinian terrorist group.
These actions were said to be the inner workings of the Israeli spy agency Mossad.
Nicole McCabe happened to be in Israel at the time of the assassination awaiting the birth of her child.
Israeli Mossad agents used her passport to gain entry into the United Arab Emirates to carry out the assassination.
She was not the only person involved in this identity theft scheme; the identity of two other Australian’s was also tied into the scheme used for the assassination.
Setting the Stage
Nicole McCabe had two things in common with the other Australians linked to this sophisticated Identity theft case.
She, like the other two Australians involved, received her passport in 2003 and lived in Israel.
The stolen passports are from countries that don’t need prior visas for the United Arab Emirates. Passport holders are not required to have eye scans or any other biometric data.
Dubai police found evidence confirming the involvement of the Israeli spy group Mossad in the form of telephone communication between the members. The fake passports were also used to obtain American credit cards from Meta Bank.
The Australian Federal Police and the Australian Passport Office said the three passports were obviously duplicated and altered.
Neither Australian officials nor Dubai Police found any evidence that Nicole McCabe and the other two Australians had any involvement in any way with the assassination.
It appears that they were just victims of identity theft. Nicole McCabe still lives in fear that she will be the victim of retribution by the Hamas but hoped that everyone would see that it was fraud.
8 – Frank Abagnale, Master of Fraud turned Security Consulting Expert
Few criminals have had the opportunity to master their craft and yet make a complete turnaround, building a life based on legitimate successes. Perhaps this is why Frank Abagnale stands out.
Reformed con artist, check forger, and master impersonator; this man was a criminal genius. His current success is nothing short of phenomenal, considering the extent of his past criminal exploits.
Today he runs a thriving security consulting firm that helps companies prevent fraud, theft, forgery and other security infractions.
In the Beginning
Frank Abagnale began his exploits as a con artist at the age of 16. Initially, most of his cons were simple check fraud; but as his cons became more elaborate, he was also known to pose as everything from a pilot, doctor, lawyer, and teacher’s assistant.
Most noteworthy, however, is the fact that Frank Abagnale was able to pose as a lawyer and actually pass the bar exam, a Pan Am airline pilot and actually fly an airplane with no formal training, and successfully pose as a credible doctor – all for relatively long periods of time without being discovered.
However, Abagnale’s many criminal deeds were finally discovered in France in 1969 – resulting in his imprisonment. He served time in several different places, both inside and outside of the United states.
After spending 6 months in a French prison, another 6 in Sweden, and being deported to serve his last 12 in a Federal Prison in the United States, Abagnale was able to terminate his prison term early in exchange for helping the FBI uncover check forgers. This turned out to be the beginning of his career in security consulting. He now uses his unique skills to advise banks and businesses on the many ways to avoid fraud.
Frank Abagnale, the master of fraud, managed to fly over a million miles on over 250 flights, commit fraud in the US as well as other countries, and ingeniously turn his life around to carve out a lucrative consulting career based on his past criminal exploits. This is nothing short of amazing, and as a result, his life served as the inspiration behind the Leonardo Dicaprio-led film, Catch Me If You Can.
9 – The Strange Case of the Retarded Old Cheerleader
Identify theft has created havoc in the lives of many people across the country. Many identity thieves have found ways to manipulate various systems to gain access to countless identities.
Identity theft can consist of areas such as credit card theft, medical records theft, social media and email theft (by way of creating false social networking profiles), corporate theft, celebrity identity theft and sadly child identity theft.
One case of child identity theft involved Wendy Brown of Green Bay, Wisconsin who illegally used her own daughter’s identity to enroll in a neighborhood high school, (Ashwaubenon High School, which is home to the Jaguars) to join a cheerleading squad. Most identity thieves will go to great lengths to steal someone else’s identity, but to steal your own child’s identity is unthinkable.
Wendy Brown apparently was no stranger to acts of crime; she was previously arrested by the Green Bay Police for an unrelated misdemeanor charge.
In her efforts to use her daughter’s identity, Brown manipulated the system and enrolled in a local high school so that she could join a cheerleading team.
Her desire to join a cheerleading squad was apparently one of her childhood dreams that she wanted to live out according to some documents that were filed by a local district attorney office.
To live up to her falsified identity, Brown played the role as a high school student by going so far as attending parties with the other kids, participating in cheer leading practices and even attended a pool party that was held for the cheerleaders at the coach’s home.
Brown was able to pull of the identity theft due to her teen-like demeanor. Although she appeared older than the other students, her timid behavior allowed her to blend right in.
She used official school transcripts that belonged to her daughter, along with her birth certificate, Social Security card and other personal information. School officials indicated that they were not suspicious of identity theft when someone from out of town registers for school with all of the proper paperwork and documentation – as a general rule.
There were a few things that triggered suspicion of Brown’s behavior, however, which eventually lead to a complaint being filed against her. The first had to do with a check that was written for $134.50 to cover her cheerleading uniform.
The check was given to the cheer leading coach, but it bounced. The other trigger took place when it was discovered that Brown’s daughter was enrolled in Pahrump Valley High School during the same time that Brown was enrolled in Ashwaubenon High School.
Children are very unsuspecting of criminal acts of fraud and identity theft that are being made against them and have very little if any defense. Brown’s daughter, who was age 15 at the time of the incident, was not aware of the crimes taking place against her. As a result of the fraud perpetrated against her, Wendy Brown’s daughter was removed permanently from the home and sent to live with Brown’s own grandmother in Nevada.
According to credit reporting agencies, identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the United States. At least 9.9 million incidents of identity theft take place per year according to the Federal Trade Commission. Studies also indicate that 18% of identity theft victims were victimized by a relative, friend or co-worker. Appropriate measures should be put in place to protect yourself from fraud and identity theft.
10 – Identity Theft and the Case of the Penny-Pinching Millionaire
14-year Navy veteran and college student Harrun Majeed was just trying to get things ready for his son’s birthday when he lost his credit card. He had just finished shopping at a local supermarket and dropped the card while placing his bags in the car for party supplies.
But when he got home and prepared to head to the store again to get his 9-year old’s birthday cake, he realized his card was gone.
He returned to the Publix Supermarket to get a cake and retrace his steps to look for his card, but was unable to find it. Dejected, he returned home to call the bank and cancel the card.
That’s when the bank told him that someone had just ordered pizza with his card a few minutes before. Majeed immediately went to the pizzeria as he dialed the police on his phone.
With deputies racing to the scene, Majeed discovered that the thief had ordered two large pizzas with olives, totaling around $40.
Since the pizzas were still on order, deputies instructed Majeed to wait outside the restaurant, as the thief — Dr. Richard Ludwig, a successful Michigan dentist who was in town to see his son play college baseball — arrived to pick up his pizzas.
Upon his arrest, it was discovered that not only did the dentist claim a net worth of over $3 Million, but he also had $250 in his pocket at the time of his arrest.
Identity theft can happen anywhere, and the profile of an identity thief isn’t one that’s easily compiled. Identity thieves can focus on certain groups, or they can act in a completely irrational manner. And in the occasional odd case, you could well be impersonated by a millionaire looking to score some stolen pizzas with your money.
11 – A Decade of Stealing Identities
Identity theft continues to grow and claim more victims each year. Unfortunately, the new growing trend appears to be the identity theft of minors.
Marcos Lopez illegally arrived in the United States and purchased a fake social security number in Chicago. He would continue to use the social security number of one Adam Bracklin, have 6 different aliases and 5 additional social security numbers for 10 years before he was caught.
Lopez entered the United States in 1997 after leaving Mexico. As an illegal alien, he set in motion a process to secure a legal identity, gainful employment, and housing, all at the expense of an unknowing minor – indeed, Adam Bracklin was a baby at the time that Marcos Lopez stole his identity.
For 10 years, Lopez got apartments and many other items, and created many unpaid bills using Adam Bracklin’s social security number. He continually evaded being caught by frequently changing jobs and home addresses. Lopez left behind a family in Mexico City. The money he made from jobs he acquired was used to send to his family. He’d send anywhere from $400 to $500 every single month, all while on the run in the U.S. He would be arrested multiple times for public intoxication, drunk driving and resisting law enforcement.
Finally, Indiana’s Channel 13 Eyewitness News and the Indiana police department (IMPD), received a tip that led them to a restaurant where Lopez was working. 13 Investigates had been trying to track down Lopez for a year before he was caught.
Marcos Lopez was charged with 10 felonies and sentenced to a year in prison. The felonies included two counts of perjury, several counts of Felony C Forgery, and four counts of identity theft. After serving his year in the US, he will be deported back to his country.
Marcos Lopez was able to successfully live in the United States for well over 10 years. He worked, obtained multiple residences and even had run-ins with the police. He was able to live as a legal resident for at least 10 years before getting caught.
Conclusion: Identity Theft Affects Adults and Minors
Successful hacks of government and corporate databases – along with network botnets designed to hack into millions of computers without being detected – continue to create a real threat to the safety of the identity and privacy of the American people.
Increasingly, basic steps used to protect our identity are becoming inadequate.
Even simple methods of identity theft like stealing wallets, purses, mail and even dumpster diving present American’s with the tough task of keeping their private information away from prying eyes.
As the methods being used to control identity theft expand, so do the methods used to evade it.
Identity theft is big business and even our children are not safe from the risk of this threat. The instances of identity theft of minors are becoming more prevalent because minors don’t have a credit file due to his or her age; credit is not something that most parents check when it comes to their children.
This creates a huge opportunity for identity thieves; because identity theft committed against a child could go on for years without being noticed – as was the case with Adam Bracklin. The person responsible for stealing Adam Bracklin’s identity did so successfully for 10 years!
Even though the man responsible for stealing this minor’s identity was found, stopped and jailed, it took time, money and a new social security number to restore the credit of this minor. This same crook was able to steal the identity of at least 5 other people by gaining access to their SSNs as well.
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