"You've probably heard about it in the news. It may even have happened to someone you know," the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston warns on its Web site. Identity theft, the Fed cautions, is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the country, with 500,000 to 700,000 Americans getting victimized each year.
Including none other than the chief of the nation's central bank himself: Ben Bernanke.
According to court documents obtained by ABC News, Bernanke and his wife were the victims of identity theft last year, falling prey to a ring led by a convicted schemer called "Big Head" that allegedly stole over $2.1 million from consumers.
"Identity theft is a serious crime that affects millions of Americans each year," Bernanke said in a statement provided by the Fed. "Our family was but one of 500 separate instances traced to one crime ring. I am grateful for the law enforcement officers who patiently and diligently work to solve and prevent these financial crimes."
The story was first reported by Newsweek. In an account confirmed by Fed officials to ABC News, Bernanke's wife Anna had her purse stolen at a Washington, D.C., Starbucks last August. Inside the purse was not only her wallet, including her driver's license and social security card, but also a joint checkbook the couple used.
Days later, someone started passing the checks. The crime was quickly reported to D.C. police.
As it turned out, this was not a petty crime, but rather part of a larger scheme that federal agents were already investigating and eventually busted earlier this summer. One of the group's leaders, Clyde Austin Gray Jr. of Waldorf, Md., - the man known as "Big Head" - pleaded guilty last month to conspiracy to commit bank fraud.
A statement of facts filed against Gray in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., – and obtained by ABC News – stated, "From in or about January 2007 through in or about May 2009, Gray and at least 12 others conspired together in a nationwide identity theft ring. Gray was a ringleader of that conspiracy. The purpose of the conspiracy was to defraud individuals and financial institutions by using stolen personal identifying information, bank and bank record information, personal checks, and other access devices belonging to individual victims to impersonate those victims at banks and thereby obtain funds from the banks. The co-conspirators employed various techniques to obtain victims' bank account information, personal checks, credit cards, driver's licenses, and other identifying documents, including pick pocket theft…"
There is reportedly an arrest warrant out for another alleged member, George Lee Reid, who allegedly used the Bernankes' checkbook to write checks from their Wachovia account.
According to an affidavit obtained by ABC News that was filed earlier this summer at the Alexandria court, Reid deposited "check number 2789 in the amount of $900 drawn on the Wachovia Bank account of a victim herein referred to as "B.B." made payable to K.N. B.B. reported being the victim of a pick pocket theft in Washington, D.C."
Maybe at the next meeting of the President's Task Force on Identity Theft, Bernanke – a member of the group – can now add his own personal story to the discussion.