A One Second Mistake Will Stay With Me Forever
(NYC, NY. USA)
In the early 1990's, being a white, country boy fresh out of college and now living in the big city, I accidentally dropped my CT driver's license onto the streets of Manhattan. It did not have a photo on it. It was a so-called "interim" license. Back in those days, there was no digital imaging technology available for commercial use. You had to physically go into the DMV and pose for a photograph every time that you renewed your license.
A black male picked up my license from the street and began using it as his own ID, particularily during times that he was arrested. I soon had to spend my own time and money confronting charges against me, such as for jumping the turnstile in the NYC subways. The one thing that really saved me time and time again is that all of the arrest warrants stated "MB" for "male black" and as far as white boys go, they don't come much whiter than I am.
It is frightening to think how much worse this would have been if I was also black. To make matters worse, he then brought the CT license to the NY DMV and applied for a NY one. Amazingly, they created a new license for him with my information on it. Again, back in those days, the DMV was not nearly as strict as they are today. It's also possible that he knew someone working there, who created the new license with no questions asked. I say this because they acted very bureaucratic when I approached them with this information. They would not show me what he looked like. I could tell that they feared being in substancial trouble for this mix up. This man had been pulled over (probably for DWB) and drugs were found in his car. Again, he was arrested under my identity.
I presented the DMV with his summons that arrived in my mailbox. He was also caught with stolen credit cards, charged with grand larceny and finally spent a year and 10 months in prison, using my name the whole time. Again, all of his crimes were committed under my identity.
What was the final outcome of this situation? To this day, all of his arrests are STILL attached to my name, address and license number. The NY DMV had to create a SECOND number for me, which they use in place of the original. A felony conviction stays with you for life. Anytime that I apply for a job and a criminal background check is executed, it shows that I've spent time in prison for felony and misdemeanor convictions. I am
now unable to travel to Canada, without first visiting the Canadian consulate and asking them to believe my story. Canada will not allow anyone into the country with a felony conviction. It will cost up to $1000.00 for them to grant me access into Canada (should they decide to believe my story and then sell me a visa).
There were two other times I was victimized by ID theft beyond the driver's license ordeal. Someone managed to steal my banking information and stole over $900.00 from my checking account. Citibank reimbursed the money, but, it took a lengthy process to complete the paperwork. I also accidentally left my American Express card in the fax machine at Kinko's. Whoever found it immediately ran to the nearest jewelry store and purchased a $5500.00 diamond ring. They also bought $900.00 worth of sunglasses from another store before Amex became suspicious and called me. Amex further called me 5 more times over the next few months asking me to repeat my story. I began to suspect that they were interrogating me, more than actually going to the stores and checking the video tapes, etc... I'll bet that, in the end, they simply wrote off that amount.
These are the things that I have learned from the incidents. Leave as many cards at home as possible. I no longer carry a wallet. Losing a wallet is a simple way to lose everything at once. Never carry a social security card unless you need it for a specific reason. It can do as much damage as a photoless driver's license. If you do a lot of online shopping, then use a Paypal account or similar. My debit card information was stolen during a purchase from St. Mark's Book store in lower Manhattan. They then used my information to purchase gift cards at a Target store in the Bronx, NY. Thieves use gift cards to "launder" money, because they are untraceable and can be used for up to one year after the purchase.
I don't consider myself absent-minded any more than the next person. It took many other people's ignorance to put me in the place that I'm in today; numerous boneheaded cops who accepted a pictureless driver's license, the morons at the DMV who issued a brand new license without supporting documents, the judcial system in general, who can prosecute a person without even knowing his real name and store clerks who accept a credit card for a large purchase without asking for ID. One momentary lapse of thinking on my part has opened an ocean of ignorance through so many others. I didn't realize that I have so much power.