By Brett Zongker and Nafeesa Syeed, Associated Press Writers
WASHINGTON (AP) — No one is safe from identity theft, not even the chairman of the Federal Reserve.
Ben Bernanke's personal checking account became entangled in an elaborate identity-theft scheme after his wife Anna's purse was stolen last August at a Capitol Hill Starbucks. According to a District of Columbia police report, it contained her Social Security card, checkbook, credit cards and IDs.
It's not been revealed how much money was stolen from the Bernankes' account. But someone started cashing checks on their bank account just days after the purse was stolen from her chair. The thefts helped fuel an ongoing investigation into a sophisticated ring.
Losses from the fraud totaled more than $2.1 million and involved at least 10 financial institutions, court document said. Clyde Austin Gray Jr. of Waldorf, Md., a suspected ringleader in the scheme, pleaded guilty on July 22 in Alexandria, Va., federal court.
(Want to know how to protect yourself from identity theft? Read this article about convenient countermeasures you can take.)The banks bore primary responsibility for the losses and the victims' accounts, including the Bernankes, were most likely made whole.
"Identity theft is a serious crime that affects millions of Americans each year," Bernanke said in a statement. "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."
Prosecutors wrote that Gray hired pick pockets then made counterfeit IDs for the participants. The coconspirators conducted the bank transactions, and Gray took a cut of the proceeds.
At least one check from the Bernanke account for $900 was deposited Aug. 13, 2008, into the account of another identity theft victim at a Bank of America branch in suburban Maryland, according to an affidavit filed in D.C. Superior Court. Authorities alleged that George L. Reid, 41, of Washington, cashed checks that day amounting to at least $9,000 in a string of transactions after the fake deposits inflated the related account balances.
Bank of America spokeswoman Tara Burke said Thursday, "We're looking into it. We're still gathering facts."Brian Lapidus, an identity theft expert with Kroll Fraud Solutions, said it's not unusual to hear of high-ranking officials caught up by identity theft. His firm has worked with celebrities, senators and others who have been victims.
"To an identity thief, we're all just names, Social Security numbers and dates of birth," Lapidus said. "Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America."