Woe to the thief who would take my identity

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Back in the old days, theft was simple.

You had something some jerk wanted. He took it. You didn't have it anymore.

Take my sisters and their bikes. My favorite way to torture them was by claiming that the garage door opener could work from the Wal-Mart parking lot, allowing the neighbor kids to steal their bikes while Mom shopped and we sat in the car. It was a fate every bike-loving child dreaded.

Years later, not long after our wedding, The Other Half and I were victims of a real robbery. We got into our car and went to turn on the radio ... only to find that there was no radio. No speakers. No roadside emergency kit. No rain guards. No bug shield.

It was disheartening, but that's the kind of stealing I understand. Ugly but normal.

Nowadays, thievery is ridiculously high tech. Those who follow the news should be petrified at the prospect of their identity being stolen. The thieves take your personal information and use it to get credit cards, loans, etc., then leave you holding the bills and the damaged credit rating.

Offered the choice between putting my Social Security number or some random, anonymous number on my new Missouri driver's license, I looked at the clerk as though she'd mentioned my hair was on fire.

"Use the random number, for the love of Pete!" I shrieked. "Someone might steal my identity!"

At Southeast Missouri State University, and every other college, the students' Social Security number goes on everything. It's more important than a name. I give shifty glances at my classmates and various cashiers every time I write mine down, wondering who might betray me and steal my identity.

But maybe I'm being paranoid. Who would want my identity? All I've got is 14 years of employment and little to show for it but some sagging 401(k)s and an investment portfolio that my broker probably takes to parties as an icebreaker.

If someone tried to pose as me to get a loan, the banker would say, "Well, Mrs. Hall, it appears that you are worth more dead than alive. Instead of giving you a loan, I will be advising your husband to kill you and collect the life insurance."

That's why a fax I received today is so hilarious. It purports to be from a South African official who would like to give me 25 percent of $13.5 million just for the courtesy of allowing my bank account to be used for a transaction.

"Your esteemed address was reliably introduced to me at the South Africa Chamber of Commerce," the letter states. It's from a guy named Isaac Vulazi.

I can imagine a couple of guys standing around at a South Africa Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours event like the ones in Cape Girardeau.

ISAAC: So, Desmond, how are the wife and kids?

DESMOND: (sipping cocktail) Fine, fine. And yours?

ISAAC: Oh, they're fine. Say, Desmond, do you have an esteemed address you can reliably introduce to me?

DESMOND: Sure. Heidi Hall, 301 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, Mo. They don't get more esteemed.

I guess I've blown the deal since the letter tells me to "keep this transaction very confidential so as not to tarnish the confidence."

Obviously, this is a scam to get into my bank account. At the moment, I am almost tempted to send my account number, because it would actually cost Isaac more for the fax from South Africa and the wire transfer than the amount in the account right now.

Hey! I just thought of a way to turn this thing around.

I have $13 million dollars I'd like to share with you. Please send your esteemed address and Social Security number.

Heidi Hall is managing editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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