Bernanke, victim of identity theft | FT Alphaville

Bernanke, victim of identity theft

Newsweek reported on Tuesday that Fed chairman Ben Bernanke was a victim of identity theft in August 2008  — just a month before the Lehman crisis brought the financial world on its knees.

According to court filings seen by Newsweek, fraudsters obtained Bernanke’s bank account details –  as if he didn’t already have enough to deal with – after snatching his wife Anna’s handbag from the back of a chair in a Washington DC Starbucks.

The bag contained Mrs Bernanke’s driving license, social security card, four credit cards, and a book of Wachovia bank cheques from the couple’s joint checking account, the court filings said.

But it did not end there. As Newsweek reported:

…the perpetrator was no ordinary thief: he was working for a sophisticated crime ring that federal agents and the police in several states had been investigating for months. In the Chicago area, where some members were based, the ring went by the street name of “Cannon to the Wiz.” (The term “cannon” is slang for pickpocket.)

One of the group’s ringleaders, Clyde Austin Gray Jr. of Waldorf, Md., pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud in federal court in Alexandria, Va., just last month. Gray (who was known to members of his ring as Big Head) employed an army of pickpockets, mail thieves, and office workers to swipe checks, credit cards, military IDs, and other personal records, according to his plea agreement and other court records filed in his case.

According to Newsweek, fraudsters used the inventive combination of old-fashioned thievery and high-tech fraud to loot the bank accounts of unsuspecting victims.

In a comment to Newsweek, the Fed chairman said:

“Identity theft is a serious crime that affects millions of Americans each year. Our family was but one of 500 separate instances traced to one crime ring. I am grateful for the law enforcement officers who patiently and diligently work to solve and prevent these financial crimes.”

And while we can only imagine the reaction fraudsters received when attempting to use Ben’s Wachovia chequebook, we think the more curious scene would have been one in which Ben Bernanke’s cheque card was publicly declined.

BB: I would like to pay for this Starbucks coffee with my Wachovia check card, please.

Starbucks staff: Sorry sir,  your card’s been declined due to lack of funds. Goodbye.