A case involving nearly $1.4 million being stolen from billionaire Orange County, California, real estate mogul Donald Bren highlights that anyone can fall victim to identity theft.
According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, a man who bore a striking resemblance to Bren walked into a bank, opened a series of accounts in his name, and deposited a stolen federal tax return check for $1.4 million. Over the next four weeks, the man, who is still unidentified, took $1.1 million out of the account.
The report said that Bren is worth about $12 billion, ranked as the 16th-richest American and 45th-richest person in the world. Images taken from the bank's security cameras showed that the identity thief was younger and heavier than Bren, whose name bank employees didn't recognize.
"His name is well known in certain circles, [but] you can't know everyone in the world no matter how famous their names are," Emily Wang, the bank's marketing director, told the paper.
The report said that the thief opened the accounts with a fake Social Security number - which was not Bren's - and driver's license. He also didn't list Bren's actual position, chairman of land developer Irvine Co., on the forms, but simply put "smoke shop." He opened the accounts on February 16 and transferred the money to accounts held by people at other banks over the next four weeks. The report said that investigators are currently trying to figure out who controls those accounts.
A report from Los Angeles television station KTLA said that authorities were unsure of how the thief got Bren's tax return check. By the time they discovered that the money had been stolen, most of it was gone. All that remained in any of the four accounts the fraudster opened was about $200,000 in certificates of deposit, and $64,049.58 in cash.
The report said that Bren will not be responsible for the lost money, but rather that it will be covered by the bank in which the accounts were opened, or its insurance provider.
Any consumer that is concerned about identity theft may consider the value of a credit monitoring service, which will alert them when someone tries to open a line of credit using their information.