Identity Theft Horror Stories

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Businessperson Checking Invoice With Magnifying Glass

Identity Crisis

Identity theft has become common in the United States. The Federal Trade Commission got 1.4 million reports of it last year as the pandemic worsened the trend. Incidents in 2019 were half the number reported over 2020 and 2021 — making identity theft the fastest-growing crime in the country. From being bilked by your twin to decadeslong struggles to prove fraud after losing a wallet, here are some of the scariest stories. Some might keep you up at night, but there are lessons about how to protect yourself, too.

Related: Bad-Neighbor Horror Stories You Won't Believe

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Nearly Getting Your Kids Taken Away

Anndorie Cromar’s driver’s license was stolen in 2006. Months later, she says, a woman used it at an area hospital when delivering a baby who tested positive for methamphetamines. Child protective services believed Cromar had delivered that baby and began an investigation that nearly cost her custody of her own four children. A DNA test proved Cromar wasn’t the baby’s mother, which helped her resolve her case of medical identity theft.

Related: Ways to Protect Your Identity and Data Online

Man counting college savings fund, tuition fee or student loan with calculator. Education price and expenses concept. Money and papers on table.
Tero Vesalainen/istockphoto

Victimized by Family

It’s bad enough that a woman used Lauren Ashleigh Hays’ stolen Social Security number to get a driver’s license, enroll in a university, and get $9,4000 in college loans and another $6,000 or so in federal student aid. The worse part is that the thief was her own estranged mother, Laura Oglesby, who pleaded guilty last year to intentionally providing false information to the Social Security Administration. Charges are pending against Oglesby for using her daughter’s identity to embezzle more than $25,000 in a previous incident.

Related: Times You Should Never Give Out Your Social Security Number


man lost his wallet

17 Doppelgangers and Counting

Arizonan Tony William Chilicas lost his wallet, in which he’d stashed his Social Security card, in 2003, and that information was found and sold at least 17 times, Chilicas says. He's been working with a lawyer ever since to fight the resulting instances of fraud, finding that at least 17 people have taken jobs or conducted financial transactions under his name. During that time, the IRS has come calling for multiple unpaid tax bills ranging from $9,000 to $25,000, and has even frozen his bank account.

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Cyber Grave Robbers

Ana Ortiz died in 2021’s Champlain Towers South condominium collapse in Surfside, Florida, which is why it was so odd that she then apparently went on to buy a $1,600 Versace purse and a $374 pair of sandals. Three people have been charged with stealing the identities of Ortiz and several other victims of the disaster by filing for changes of address and asking for replacement credit cards to be sent there. When they got the cards, they racked up $45,000 in sham charges. A court case is pending.

Car rental sign

Rental Car Rack-Up

Brandon Mayes, of Chicago, faces $30,000 in debt related to fraudulent rental car leases since his car was broken into in 2019 and his wallet and driver’s license stolen. With his license in hand, the thieves rented at least eight expensive rental cars from area airports, which they either never returned or returned damaged. He’s run afoul of the police because of the incidents too: The thieves have accumulated more than $1,000 in tollway fines and parking, speeding, and red-light tickets. He’s filed charges with his state’s Secretary of State office and has tried to convince rental car companies to stop leasing vehicles in his name.

How in the world!?

Watching Savings Disappear

Imagine logging in to check your bank account balance and finding nearly $250,000 gone. That’s what happened to a Chicago man who was the victim of identity theft. His funds — enough to buy a home — were transferred into an investment account taken out his name at Chase Bank. The bank returned his funds, after which he alerted the credit reporting agencies of the theft.

Related: Credit Horror Stories That Will Keep You Up at Night

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Jirapong Manustrong/istockphoto

ID Theft Investigator's ID Stolen

Even a police lieutenant in a financial crimes unit investigating identity theft cases isn’t safe. The identity of a lieutenant in Houston was used fraudulently three times — in one 2005 incident, to open an online trading account with the intention of stealing $10,000 from a university. Ultimately, investigators tracked the stolen information to his father’s employee records, which included a childhood insurance form providing his date of birth and Social Security number. After an alert was set on credit bureau accounts, there were no long-term effects.

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Piling Onto Debt Worries

Imagine being “fresh out of grad school with high student loan debt, rent, and health insurance payments” and getting a $14,900 IRS bill on top of it all for unpaid taxes, penalties, and interest. Allison Carter Fanney, communications manager for the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, shared this identity theft story in 2019 that resulted from someone using her name, Social Security number, and birthdate to file a fraudulent tax return and claim a fake $4,000 refund. The mistake was failing to think about taxes during grad school just as her parents stopped listing her as a dependent. It took eight months of “tears, uncertainty and feelings of powerlessness” to resolve.

Old woman sitting on steps and crying

Bills and Threats at Age 87

Picking on a someone loaded with student debt is one thing — but leaving an 87-year-old widow on a fixed income with the bills for $70,000 in accounts in her name, bills for $12,000 taken out on a Visa platinum card, and threatening phone calls about repossessing a Toyota she didn’t own? That’s what happened to an Austinite named Katherine, who told investigators she suspected a 24-year-old woman living in the same Texas apartment complex.

Young man shopping online

ID Theft Disguised as Investigation

Reporter Sam Fellman answered a 2019 phone call about his Social Security number being stolen in an identity theft ring and cooperated with the caller completely. And that was his mistake: The call was an identity theft scam. The callers pretended to be investigators, all the while gathering enough identifying and banking information for a real theft. Over a three-and-a-half-hour conversation, Fellman lost $2,500. He’s filed charges with the police.

Man hide mask.

A Decadeslong Battle

For 17 years, someone was impersonating David B. Dahlstrom, of Salt Lake City. The long-running identity theft caused Dahlstrom to face challenges including difficulty getting credit cards and being detained by police serving an arrest warrant in his name. Authorities say that behind it all was German immigrant Yorck A. Rogge, who somehow had a California driver’s license issued in Dahlstrom’s name in 1999 and went on using it through a series of arrests. Rogge finally faced 81 counts of identity theft and fraud.

Fan of plastic credit cards is in woman's hand.

A Ruined Credit Score

When Martina Henry did a credit check in 1999 and discovered 11 credit cards taken out in her name, she thought she’d be able to correct the errors quickly. Sixteen years later, she was still struggling to prove those cards weren’t hers and have them — and the thousands of dollars owed on them — removed from her record. Her credit score was so damaged that she couldn’t take out a mortgage, secure an auto loan, or even get a card of her own. In April 2015, she filed a suit against the credit reporting agencies, two credit collection agencies, and four banks to try to bring the long drama to a close.


Owing for a Criminal's Debt

In just four months, Connecticut salesman John Harrison was $265,000 in debt. There were charges at Home Depot, JCPenney, Sears, Lowes, and for vehicles bought from Ford, Kawasaki, and Harley-Davidson, but Harrison hadn’t spent a penny of it: A man named Jerry Phillips had stolen Harrison’s identity and spent enough to buy a house. Phillips was eventually arrested and served three years of prison time. The worst part: Even with proof of Phillips’ crime and a letter from the Justice Department, Harrison was still on the hook for $140,000 to different creditors.

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A Suspect-in-Law

When their son married, Johanna and Andrew Feist didn’t know an alleged scammer was joining the family. The Feists’ daughter-in-law, Carol, stole their identities and bank account information to make a $134,000 payment on a home. In March, Carol was charged with two counts of aggravated identity theft in Montana. The case is being transferred to federal court.

Businessperson Checking Invoice With Magnifying Glass

Victims Twice Over

After 7-year-old Amari Brown was shot and killed in Chicago in 2015, his family was devastated. And there was another wrong waiting: someone allegedly using his identity to commit tax fraud. In a September indictment, authorities said a woman named Katrina Pierce filed for 37 death certificates in 2019 alone and was awarded more than two dozen of them, for people from ages 2 to 22. She used the information to file false tax returns — including one that claimed a child believed to be Brown as a dependent — and collect refunds, many based on erroneous child tax credits, authorities said.

Related: What to Do When a Loved One Dies