Jewish World Review Dec. 14, 2004 / 2 Teves, 5765
Uncle Jonathan's Wild Ride
This week, I almost bought two luxury cars in New York City. Well, the cars
were actually for a nephew and his friend. In this exceedingly generous act,
I not only qualified for Uncle of the Year but as the latest victim of
identity theft one out of an estimated 10 million each year. Like many
such victims, my identity was stolen when my Social Security number was
pilfered from my employment files in this case, CBS News, where I have
worked as legal analyst.
Police suspect that a former CBS employee may have been one of two men who
appeared at the Courtesy Auto Mall in the Bronx and tried to buy two Lexus
sedans. "Uncle" Jonathan Turley of CBS News, who signed for both cars,
supplied my Social Security number as proof of identity.
It was only later that a finance officer realized that the last time he saw
me on television I was neither particularly young nor African American. When
the two men returned to pick up the cars, they suspected that something was
up and fled without the cars but with my identity.
Identity thieves have grown increasing bold. One racked up more than $17,000
on luxury items as Eldrick T. Woods until he ran into a golf fan who knew
that this is the real name of golf legend Tiger Woods, and this guy was no
In my case, I moved quickly to use a new anti-theft program that began Dec.
1. Congress passed the much ballyhooed Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions
Act, guaranteeing a free credit report once a year. I found out, however,
that those of us in the East must wait until Sept. 1, 2005, to get a free
report. By that time, Jonathan Turley could be the biggest purchaser of
movable luxury items since Liberace.
Victims of identity theft remain easy pickings for thieves because of a lack
of real interest from prosecutors and politicians. Since 1998, the
identities of 27.3 million Americans have been stolen.
What has Congress done about it? Allow consumers to check their own credit
files free, one request a year to the three main credit bureaus. Then, if
you find you're a victim, you can ask the bureaus to place an alert on your
file, which may slow down additional fraudulent requests for credit. (Be
careful though: Some services that offer to help you use the new law have
reportedly been taking credit card information and automatically enrolling
consumers in various monthly services for a fee.)
Of course, it is hard for government to be part of the solution when it is
part of the problem. More than 75% of all counties include Social Security
numbers in at least one public document, exposing 94% of the U.S. population
to identity theft.
Congress is also unwilling to act on the scourge of instant credit cards
that are designed to offer immediate credit with little fuss a dream for
thieves who can steal your identifying information, use it to get a card and
quickly rack up massive purchases before moving on. Likewise, Congress has
done little on scams like "phishing," in which thieves trick Internet users
into disclosing confidential information on fake websites purporting to be
connected to Citibank, EBay, PayPal or other companies. One recent study
found that, in a 12-month period, nearly 11 million Americans fell for the
ploy, losing $1.2 billion.
The biggest problem, however, is a lack of prosecution. In speaking with FBI
agents and New York police detectives, I was told that these thieves are
rarely prosecuted by district attorneys who want more high-profile cases.
For my part, I long for an element of revenge. My preference leans toward
the punishment meted out to a child molester in Iran who was sewed up in a
bag and thrown down a hill covered with sharp rocks. Yet I would be afraid
my identity thief would survive and charge the best medical care available
on the quickie charge card he just got in my name.
I was simply told to come to terms with the fact that there will probably be
another Jonathan Turley, or even multiple Jonathan Turleys, shopping in my
name. Of course, I can now disavow columns that I regret and blame them on
those other guys.
The thing that kills me is the thought that Jonathan Turleys could be
driving around in Lexuses while I still plod to work in my beat-up Volvo
wagon. I now wonder whether, if I had only applied myself more, I could have
been somebody with a luxury car and no financial worries ... somebody like
... well ... Jonathan Turley.
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JWR contributor Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George
Click here to visit his website. Comment by clicking here.
© 2004, Jonathan Turley