By Praveen Kannan and Anna Strokolyst The Hotspot Shield team believes the internet should be open and secure …
Leonardo DiCaprio was a charming identity thief in “Catch Me If You Can” to the extent that moviegoers cheered for and sympathized with him. In reality, however, identity theft is rarely charming, and only sociopaths applaud the thieves. After all, what’s cheerful about damaged credit histories, devastated reputations, and ruined lives?
Identity thieves are motivated by many things, some perhaps understandable, such as the need for cash. Other motivations, however, are just downright strange. Take a look at five of the strangest things ever done with a stolen identity.
The Dead Sea Scrolls Sock Puppet
On the Internet, a sock puppet is a fake identity used to harass, argue with, or bully people. Most of the time, a sock puppet takes a fictional name to disguise the writer’s real identity. Raphael Golb, however, wanted sock puppets with credibility.
Golb’s father, you see, had developed a questionable theory about the Dead Sea Scrolls. Golb senior, a University of Chicago professor, became the subject of ridicule by his colleagues and other scholars who studied the Scrolls, and Raphael wanted to change that.
So he did what any loyal son would do and hacked the identities of the elder Golb’s critics to post statements in support of his father’s wacky theories. He also created email accounts in the names of his father’s detractors and sent embarrassing disclosures to members of the press.
Needless to say, the colleagues were not impressed with Golb’s filial loyalty. He was arrested for aggravated harassment, identity theft, and criminal impersonation.
The Corrupt Cheerleader
What do you do if you’re 33 years old and don’t have a high school diploma? Steal your daughter’s identity, of course, to enroll in high school and join the pom-pom squad for good measure.
Wendy Brown, a Wisconsin woman, had a pity party for herself and her misbegotten childhood. When her 15-year-old daughter moved away to live with Brown’s mother, Brown stole her child’s identity and went back to school. She managed to fake out the cheerleading coach, who invited her to a pool party and even gave Brown a special cheerleader’s locker at school.
It’s unclear whether Brown will get her GED in prison. She faces six years for identity theft.
The Suspicious Stakeout
Everyone knows that, when a CIA agent goes undercover, he assumes the name and identity of a person already living in the neighborhood he’s spying on, right? Even so, cops in Wichita, Kansas, were immediately suspicious when a man checked in with them one day telling them he was a secret agent taking over the identity of a city resident.
In fact, the man’s strange disclosure set off alarm bells with the detectives who decided to investigate the “undercover agent.” What they found was beyond belief. The “agent” had taken over the home and identity of a man who was away for several months caring for his mother.
The faux agent used his assumed identity to take out a second mortgage, buy a lot of nice gadgets and even throw a big barbecue picnic for the out-of-town man’s neighbors. Needless to say, the cops were not amused and arrested the man on the spot.
The Roommate Reprobate
Taking a roommate is a roll of the dice even under the best circumstances. When Brittany Ossenfort met Michelle through mutual acquaintances, she thought that she had finally hit the jackpot. Brittany and Michelle became fast friends, and Brittany invited Michelle to move in.
Sure, Brittany should have been alerted when Michelle started wearing her hair just like Brittany and wearing the same clothes. Maybe Brittany should have freaked out when Michelle got a matching tattoo on her hand.
Brittany finally figured things out when she got a call at work to bail herself out of jail. Her roommate Michelle, upon her arrest for prostitution, used Brittany’s ID and personal information for her booking documents. To add insult to injury, when Brittany convinced the police that Michelle had stolen her identity, the subsequent investigation revealed that Michelle actually was a man named Richard Phillips.
Sadly, Brittany can never get her name removed from the arrest and charging records. On the plus side, however, she has official government paperwork that she can give to the cops if she’s ever arrested in the future.
The Runaway Bride
Rosa Vargas was looking forward to being a blushing bride. She lovingly chose her dress, caterers, colors, invitations, venue, and band. She applied for her marriage license as soon as she’d set the date. Everything was perfect.
That is, everything was perfect until the city clerk informed her that she couldn’t be issued a marriage license, since she was already married to two other men. Ms. Vargas had her birth certificate stolen when she was just 16; in the intervening years, other women had assumed her identity to commit immigration fraud. Vargas ultimately was able to convince a judge to nullify her fake marriages.
Identity theft is a growing threat. Celebrities such as Tiger Woods, Robert Deniro, Steven Spielberg, and more have had their identities stolen. What’s scary is that you may be legally and financially responsible for the crimes committed by the thief, as in the case of John Sileo.
Foiling identity thieves requires a new and comprehensive view of online threats. It’s not enough to think up clever passwords and buy anti-virus software. You must be proactive in protecting your information and identity.
These tips can help you safeguard your identity:
- Watch what you share on social media sites. These sites, most notably Facebook, leverage your personal data for marketing purposes. This leaves you vulnerable to attack. Open a separate email account for use on social networking sites.
- Use a virtual private network (VPN) such as Hotspot Shield, especially if you use public Wi-Fi networks. VPNs encrypt internet communications and hide your IP address, protecting your anonymity online.
- Be careful what you open, click, or download in your email accounts. Hackers and cybercriminals often attack through email.
- Install anti-virus and anti-malware programs and keep them up to date.
- Create random and strong passwords for all your accounts. Also, do not use the same password across multiple accounts.
- Lock up sensitive documents in a safe place and shred documents containing your sensitive and private information before discarding them.
While identity thieves do some really strange things, identity theft is no laughing matter. This crime can have far-reaching and long-lasting ramifications for its victims, and there are no easy solutions once your identity is stolen. By taking a few relatively simple precautions, though, you can protect yourself from the threat of cybercrime.