Woman Chases Down and Nabs Identity Thief

Karen Lodrick was waiting for her morning coffee at a San Francisco Starbucks when she realized the woman next to her looked eerily familiar.

The woman was wearing a distinctive fur-trimmed coat that Lodrick recognized from bank surveillance photos of the woman who had been posing as Lodrick and stealing her identity.

Maria Nelson, the woman in the fur coat, had been wreaking havoc in Lodrick's life for months.

"My gut was saying, 'this is something. She is something. Don't let her go. Call the police,'" Lodrick said.

When Lodrick confronted Nelson, she ran out of the store.

Lodrick wasn't about to let her get away. The fearless 5-foot-2 Web consultant chased Nelson on foot for 45 minutes through the streets of San Francisco, while calling 911.

"This woman has been taking my identity for the last five months. It's been a living hell. I need someone to come to Laguna and Market. She's running!" Lodrick said on the 911 call.

Nelson tried to escape in a cab, but Lodrick persisted, even staying on the line with 911 while pleading with a taxi driver.

"I know who you are! Don't let her go. She's an identity thief!" Lodrick said.

Bank Account Hijacked

Lodrick's nightmare began five months earlier when she received a telephone call from her bank about thousands of dollars in suspicious charges.

"It was just charge after charge after charge," she said. "You know, $50 here, $300 there, $1,000 here. And it was just random, and it was pretty terrifying and to see a negative balance in my account, I was just like 'oh my gosh'!"

For the next few weeks Lodrick put her life on hold as she desperately tried to unravel the thief's fraudulent activity.

"I really wanted to figure this out because she was getting into everything. She was getting into writing blank checks. I received phone calls for a Dell computer, and a $7,000 loan," Lodrick said.

Police say Nelson accessed Lodrick's mail and used her personal information to get into her accounts and pose as Lodrick to creditors.

More than 8 million Americans have their identity stolen each year, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Authorities say there are some simple ways to avoid being a victim.

"Check your statements, sign up to view the accounts online, that way you don't have to wait to view them monthly, and can view them weekly or more frequently," said San Francisco Police Sgt. Steve Mannina.

Eventually, her banks replaced the money in her accounts, but the thief was not found — until Lodrick says she spotted her in the Starbucks.

The 45-minute chase ended in a parking garage where the police finally arrested Nelson, who as it turned out, was wanted by the police and had several previous convictions for fraud and theft.

Nelson pleaded guilty to one felony count of identity theft and was sentenced to 44 days in jail and three years' probation.

Now that Lodrick has taken her identity back, she is on a mission to help others learn from her ordeal.

She said other victims contact her to praise her spunk in chasing down the thief.

"They're relating and they're saying, 'I would have done it too! I would have fought back! And I'm so proud of you.' So it's doing some good."