Heard the one about the stolen identity?

Heard the one about the stolen identity?

Hello, my name is Bennett Arron.

I am an award-winning writer, stand-up comedian and BAFTA shortlisted director. I am both Jewish and Welsh, tall and thin, with hazel eyes and curly brown hair.

Now, assuming you don’t know me, you won’t know which elements of this are true and which are false. (The answer is ‘tall and thin’ are false. Of course, I’m also virtually bald, but my chest isn’t…)

This is the main problem with identity theft. You are given information which you assume to be correct until proven otherwise.

Although we all now know about ID theft, when it happened to me in 1998, the crime was almost unheard of. I therefore had to convince the Police Officer who came to my house to interview me, as well as all the companies to which I allegedly owed money, that I was me, and not the person pretending to be me.

Yes, a Police Officer actually came to my house. That’s how serious a crime it was considered to be back then in the good old days. It wasn’t the so called ‘victimless crime’ it’s often described as today. In fact I was told that my case was one of the first major cases of ID theft in the UK. I should probably be proud.

The result of this crime would eventually lead to my wife (who was pregnant at the time) and I becoming penniless and homeless and having to move in with my parents.

Years after this awful life-changing event I wrote a comedy show about it. Not something I would have expected to do at the time! This show received rave reviews and led to my being asked to speak at a number of Fraud and Security conferences around the world. The show also resulted in my being asked to make a television documentary on the subject.

In the documentary, called How to Steal an Identity, I proved, through various methods, how easy the crime of ID theft is to carry out. I firstly went through someone’s rubbish at 1 o’clock in the morning. They had thrown away their bank statements, PIN and other personal information. Using this I managed to open accounts in their name. I then set up a stall in a Shopping Centre in South Wales and told people that I could stop them from having their identity stolen if they gave me all their personal details.

Did they? Well, have a look…

The other thing I did in the programme was to steal the identity of the British Home Secretary! The Home Office was very grateful to me for doing this as it proved that there was a clear loophole in the system. I was awarded an OBE and…. I’m kidding of course. Instead, as a ‘thank you’, I was arrested in a dawn raid by Scotland Yard. But I had at least proved my point.

After each of my talks, be it at a security conference or to management and staff at their place of work, I hold a Q&A session. There is always one particular question I am asked in these sessions (not whether I really am Jewish and Welsh) and that’s if there’s anything that can be done to stop the crime from happening. Everyone is always shocked when I say “no’.

Of course we can use methods to stop it from being too easy for the thieves, but until we learn not to give out information — either on the phone or online — without properly checking the source, and until companies stop accepting applications without sufficient proof of ID, it will continue to happen.

17 years after having my identity stolen, I have written a book about my whole experience. It explains what happened, how it happened, and how I managed to track down the thief. It also explains how making a television documentary ‘in the public interest’ can have devastating consequences. I hope you enjoy my book. Whoever you are….

Bennett Arron’s book ‘Heard the One About Identity Theft?’ is available here

The full article features in our June 2015 magazine available here