California State Capitol
I produced a documentary called "Stolen Identity: Crime of the Millennium" inspired by my own experience of having my identity stolen. The person who stole my identity did not know me. She did not know my age or mother's maiden name. She did not know my driver's license number. She did not even know what I looked like. (In fact, she changed all these statistics to match her own.) All this person knew who stole my identity was my social security number. Having my identity stolen and recovering my identity was traumatic, scary and surreal. I felt I was victimized once by the perpetrator and again by the system.
I found out "Someone" was living as me from a letter from a credit card company asking if I tried to open up a new account. When I called the credit bureaus, I found a new address, phone number, driver's license number and numerous new credit cards. So I called and went to several police stations, and I was refused help. They told me they would take a courtesy report-but not to expect any investigation-and the burden of proof was on me.
I called the police to see if they could tell me who the phone line belonged to that was listed on my credit report. They said they couldn't. I found out it belonged to me.
So, I called the phone company to have them disconnect the phone line. They said they would have to notify the other "Selene" in writing first. The "other Selene," the person who stole my identity, called them and was more convincing than I was in proving my own identity. They believed her and didn't believe me. And they subsequently closed the fraud file.
I called the credit card companies and begged them to send me the documents that were forged in my name..And they did send them. But they sent them to her. As quickly as I would close the accounts, she would open new ones. I called the credit bureaus to ask why they opened new accounts when I had it flagged. They had no answer.
My story is not typical, because I was fortunate enough to finally receive help from the police. After several months of persistence, I was able to get enough evidence by myself that Detective Edholm of the Beverly Hills Police Dept. arrested her. She had a prior criminal record. I was told she would not be released on bail. But, she was. I was notified several weeks later that someone tried to take out a loan in my name. The identity thief was sentenced to 18 months. She served 9 months and is now out on parole. The parole officer warned me that she could do it all over again.
The shocking thing about being a victim of stolen identity is you are often met with disbelief. People think -- stealing your identity cannot be that easy -- that the police could not refuse to help you -- and that if your identity was stolen, there has to be a remedy to not only get it back but also prevent it from ever happening again.
Because many aspects of the crime are not easy to digest as true, I was inspired to produce a documentary to give a voice to the victims that were often silenced by the current laws. The documentary, "Stolen Identity: Crime of the Millennium," provides candid testimony from the victims themselves that this crime exists and to what extent.
It also shows how easy it is for criminals to steal an identity. But the documentary does not provide a cure for this epidemic -- because there is none. Preventive measures are provided at the end of the documentary -- without a guarantee.
If you become a victim, there are remedies to recover your identity. But the crime of stolen identity will always be your shadow -- because it can happen again and again.
"Stolen Identity: Crime of the Millennium" is currently being distributed by Aims Multi-Media in Chatsworth to schools, universities and law enforcement agencies nation-wide (www.aimsmultimedia.com ).
While producing the documentary, I was able to meet many victims who were devastated to find out that their identities were stolen to obtain cash and credit cards, as well as to commit serious crimes in the name of an unsuspecting victim.
It is hard to comprehend the crime of stolen identity exists because it is nearly invisible to its victims. You don't see it happening to you. You wake up one day and all of a sudden you could be facing jail time.
The first response most victims face when confronting the law is "you're guilty." And the burden of proof is on the victim. Victims generally have the responsibility of retrieving their identity on their own, even if law enforcement is contacted. The victims also have to endure an emotionally draining, costly and time-consuming experience of clearing their own name.
Stolen identity is an epidemic that attacks silently and indiscriminately. It is just a matter of time before you or someone you know will have their identity stolen. The crime of stolen identity is in dire needs of a solution. Assembly Bill 1897 and the other identity theft bills (AB1949, AB 1862, AB 2462, SB 1767) are an important step in resolving this problem. (To read these bills, go to www.leginfo.ca.gov .)