Identity theft is expensive.
Having someone else using our names and numbers can cost us time, money and credit scores.
In extreme cases, identity theft can even lead to people filing bankruptcy.
But just in case that wasn't threat enough to convince you that you should monitor your credit reports carefully and take the time to shred your personal documents before disposing of them, a recent case in Tampa, Florida demonstrates that the risks are even greater than most of us ever anticipated.
In August of last year, Tallie Gainer III walked out of a restaurant without his wallet. It was an error that could have happened to any of us; Gainer saw his toddler heading for the door alone and rushed to catch up with her, leaving his wallet lying on the counter.
Nine days later, a man presented a fraudulent check made payable to Gainer, along with Gainer's driver's license, to a bank teller. When the teller showed the check to her manager, the man fled.
Gainer had reported his wallet stolen on August 2, but that theft had occurred (and been reported) in another jurisdiction, so the Pasco County Sheriff's Department concluded that Gainer himself had been the man at the bank.
Gainer was a homeowner with a newly minted business plan, and according to the St. Petersburg Times had already raised more than half a million dollars in cash and loans to start his business.
But that business opportunity dried up and disappeared while Gainer was dealing with a more immediate problem: his arrest on felony check forgery charges.
Nearly three months later, evidence that should have been turned over to Gainer's defense attorney within fourteen days revealed that the bank teller had requested and obtained a thumbprint from the man who presented the check. It didn't match Gainer's.
The victim of identity theft was eventually cleared, but not before he'd spent money on bond and a criminal defense attorney, missed work for court dates, lost out on a real estate deal, been forced to pass up the business opportunity he'd been saving for, and had to back out of teaching a mortgage brokerage class.
More than six weeks reportedly passed between the time that the fingerprint evidence was pointed out by the defense attorney and the time that an agent for the prosecution actually compared Gainer's thumbprint to the one on the check.
Gainer is considering a lawsuit, and that may help to pay back the $15,000 in debt he incurred fighting the charges and other expenses, but some of his losses are irreparable.