In the middle of an overseas trip last week, I got a notice that my bank account was overdrawn. This was quite a surprise. I didn’t have tons of money in it but I knew how much I had. Even more alarming was the notice in Spanish that subsequently appeared in my email, confirming a large (and unauthorized by me) transfer from my personal bank account into my PayPal account. Fortunately, PayPal nipped any use of these newly acquired funds in the bud and my bank refunded me all overdraft charges. So, while I suffered some minor inconvenience — not being able to use my debit card on vacation and the time it took to straighten things out once I got home — I was financially and emotionally no worse for wear.
I know how lucky I am. In 2017, nearly 15 million consumers experienced identity theft, losing approximately 6.8 billion dollars. The most common forms of identity thefts are similar to what I experienced; someone fraudulently gains access to another person’s bank account or credit cards and uses it to steal money. However, the goal of identity theft isn’t always financial and, as can be seen from these two recent cases, sometimes there’s a lot more is at stake than money.
Lois Ann Riess and Pamela Sellers Huchinson
Lois Riess is a 56-year-old Minnesota grandmother who is currently wanted for two murders. The body of her husband, David Riess, was discovered March 23, 2018; Dodge County authorities say his wife shot him and stole his Cadillac Escalade and $11,000 after forging his signature on his business account. According to various news sources, she has a history of problem gambling and financial fraud, having abused her position as guardian of her disabled sister’s trust to blow $78,000 of her sibling ‘s money at the casinos.
After murdering her spouse, Ms. Riess then drove to Fort Meyers, Florida, where she met and befriended 59-year-old lookalike Pamela Sellers Hutchinson. Video surveillance from a local restaurant and the victim’s condominium complex show the two of them laughing and talking together. Investigators say that after shooting Hutchinson in the heart, Riess stole her victim’s identification, credit cards, and car. She withdrew $5,000 from her victim’s bank account and made credit card purchases before security alerts shut them down.