Jewish World Review August 28, 2002 / 20 Elul, 5761

Paul Karon

Paul Karon
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Consumer Reports

My identity was stolen ---
I wish it well | Several weeks ago I read a story in the "New York Times" that reported on yet another chapter in the increasingly trendy offense of high-tech identity theft -- a category of crime that's defrauding ordinary people and financial institutions out of an estimated billion dollars a year. The article described a network of websites in Europe where thousands of stolen credit card numbers are put up for sale every week, in a kind of huge, criminal eBay auction.

I forgot all about it, until I got a letter from my credit card company.

It was a thin envelope. You could tell right away it wasn't going to be one of those mass mailings filled with car rental coupons, or worse, those so-called 'convenience' checks they dangle in front of you -- the only real convenience being, of course, to help you burrow even deeper into credit card debt. But this envelope contained just one sheet of paper, saying it was from the bank's security department.

The letter desperately informed me that they have been TRYING REPEATEDLY but have been UNABLE TO REACH ME BY TELEPHONE and to please, PLEASE call them as soon as possible.

I phoned immediately. A guy who identified himself as Greg answered.

"We don't mean to pry," he said, "but have you been traveling lately?"

"Well, I drove to the mall in Sherman Oaks the other day.'' I'd met a friend for lunch. We went to a barbeque place. Then I bought gas. Technically, it was travel.

Greg said, "So you haven't been to…say…Paris?"

I would like to think of myself as the kind of guy who has lately traveled to Paris, but I am not, in fact, that guy. At least, I wasn't during any recent billing cycle.

It turns out that one of these identity thieves got hold of my Visa card number, and in the space of a few weeks, ran up a round $10,000 on my account before the bank noticed.

Some of these fraudulent charges were at a place called the Hotel du Berry, in Paris. Another was at an establishment called AmHotel, also in Paris. Others were at the Restplatzboerse, in Linz, Austria. I think that's a hotel, too. I've never been to Austria, and I have no idea what Linz is like, but I have chosen to think of it as a charming Alpine hamlet with gingerbread ski resorts.

Greg assured me that the bank would take care of everything, and told me not to worry. But I knew that my poor identity was still out there someplace, scared, on the run. Why, even now, the kidnappers were probably forcing it to drive a stolen Aston Martin in a daring sprint across the Swiss border, Interpol agents hot on their trail. Likely, they were en route to a clandestine meeting to exchange uncut diamonds for microfilm. Casinos would almost certainly be involved - perhaps even tuxedos. An innocent girl might be in danger.

I have not always been known as the most fun guy in the room, but it was becoming clear that someone was having a pretty exciting time in Europe with my self.

Greg explained that I would not be responsible for any of the bogus charges, and that my identity would soon be back home, with me, where it belonged.

The bank sent me a new credit card, and all of the financial matters were straightened out in a matter of days, as promised. But a week passed and then another, and there was still no sign of my identity. The bank didn't know anything about it, so I made some inquiries on my own, questioning friends, and friends of friends. Finally word filtered back that my identity had elected to remain in Europe, and was running with a sophisticated crowd. It last seen in Monte Carlo with a woman identified only as 'Marguerite.'

At first, I was angry. I felt that my identity had abandoned me. But now I find it exhilarating to know it is out there somewhere, caught up in one exotic caper or another, maybe by this time with multiple tuxedos, wearing sunglasses, charging stuff and not paying, zipping off to Paris, Lisbon, or Zurich.

I just hope my identity has a chance to make it to the top of the Eiffel Tower next time it's in Paris, but if not, I suppose we'll always have Linz.

Paul Karon is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. Comment by clicking here.


© 2002, Paul Karon