If you’ve been watching the news, you might think that identity theft has only been an issue within the past decade. However, the crime of ID theft is not a new one. In fact, there are plenty of identity theft cases dating back decades. Take, for example, Tom Lesh. In the 1970s, his identity was stolen.
After a night of drinking, Tom’s brother had told a friend, Clark Mower, some of Tom’s personal details, like his birthplace and mother’s maiden name. Little did they know that this would be a huge mistake. This so-called “friend” assumed Tom’s identity and got hundreds of thousands of dollars into debt, including over $10,000 in overdue taxes. Using Tom’s identity, Mower filed for bankruptcy and even received financial benefits from the Department of Social and Health Services.
It took some time for Lesh to catch on to the theft. His first alert came when his employer told him that someone else had gotten a job in another state using the same Social Security number. Then, despite his previously good credit rating, he was denied a loan for a car.
Though Lesh was fairly certain who committed the theft – and the identity theft was even brazen enough to brag about his actions – it took prosecutors more than 35 years to finally catch him. In the meantime, Lesh worked to protect his identity, and luckily never had to pay a dime for Mower’s thefts. After putting a fraud alert on his credit file, Mower was effectively blocked from opening new credit cards in Tom’s name. Then, he contacted the police, and began working with the IRS and the Social Security Administration– which would continue for years as Mower remained free.
Though it is unusual for an identity thief to take 35 years to be arrested, Lesh’s actions remain a very important lesson. First, never share personal information, no matter how trivial the details seem. Second, take immediate steps once the theft is discovered. If Lesh had been monitoring his credit, the theft would not have continued so long, and it might have been easier to repair the damage.