The History of Identity Theft

The Identity Theft crime is one of the fasted growing.  Many of us associate identity theft with an Internet age.  But is it a correct assumption to make.  What is the history of identity theft?  When did it all start?

No one can really tell when a first case of identity theft happened, but there are many cases have been recorded throughout the history.  Impersonating someone for power or money began way before the Internet and the credit cards.

When the King of Portugal Sebastian was killed in 1578 while on his second expedition to Morocco, many Portuguese people refused to accept his death.  Many of them called King Sebastian “hidden king” and believed that he was somewhere on the exotic island awaiting for his second coming.  There were four pretenders who have successfully impersonated King Sebastian.  Two of them were of peasant origin and got quickly captured.  The third person, Gabriel Espinosa, had some educated and did better at impersonating King Sebastian.  But he got captured and executed in 1594.  Then there was a fourth person in 1603 by the name of Marco Tullio, who spoke no Portuguese whatsoever, but he was the most successful one in impersonating the King, he had a lot of following.  He eventually was captured and executed.

There is a great story about a famous conman who was referred to as “the man who sold the Eiffel Tower.  Twice”.  His name was Victor Lustig.  Lustig was born in Czech Republic, he later moved to Western Europe.  He was smart, charming, spoke several languages and was very likable.

In 1925, Lustig saw a great opportunity while he was reading an article in a newspaper about the Eiffel Tower and how costly the upkeep of the Eiffel Tower was.

Lustig made some fake government stationary and invited six scrap dealers to a meeting.  He introduced himself as a deputy director-general of the Ministry of Posts and Telegraph.  He told those six that due to the financial strain, the upkeep of the Eiffel Tower was draining the local economy and the government had decided to sell it.

One scrap dealer was extremely interested and extremely gullible.  His name was Andre Poisson.  He wanted to fit in with the Parisian society and thought that if he owned the Eiffel Tower, he would get the respect he wanted.  However, Poisson’s wife was extremely suspicious.  She questioned everything: why everything was going so quickly, why everything was so secretive and who that governmental official was.  To make Poisson more comfortable, Lustig scheduled a second meeting and that’s when he “confessed”.  Lustig said that he was not making much money as a government official to support the life style he wanted to live and he was looking for new sources of income.  Lustig said he was not sure if the Tower would be sold to Poisson if everything went out in the open.  Poisson understood whom he was dealing with-another government official asking for a bribe.  Not only did Lustig get a payment for the Eiffel Tower, he got bribed to “sell” it Poisson.  Lustig took off with the money.    Since Poisson felt foolish about falling into such a scam, he did not go to the police.

Then, six months later, Lustig returned to Paris and tried to pull off the same scam, but, this time, the selected buyer got very suspicious and went to the police.  Lustig outsmarted everybody and got away.

In the 1960s, Frank Abagnale successfully forged checks worth of 2.5 million dollars starting when he was only 16 years old.  He assumed no less than 8 identities.  He successfully impersonated an air pilot, a pediatrician, a lawyer and an instructor.  All before he was 23 years old.

The 2002 movie called “Catch me if you can” directed by Steven Spielberg was based on Abignale’s story and character.  I must say it was a great movie.  If you have not seen it yet, rent it ( Blockbuster.com ).  I think you will like it.

Today Frank Abignale, Jr. works as a security consultant for the FBI and has his own security consultancy firm called Abignale and Associates.

Resources:The Wall Street Journal. Complete Identity Theft Guidebook: How to Protect Yourself from the Most Pervasive Crime in America (Wall Street Journal Identity Theft Guidebook: How to Protect)

Wikepedia, Encyclopedia, Britannica.

About the Author

Lana is a real life Identity Theft Victim. Identity Theft Manifesto is a result of her own struggles to clear her credit, her name and reputation. She is on the mission to research, learn more and educate her readers about ID Theft Crime.
  • ID researcher

    Need to do more research before putting up video
    since ID theft is recorded 100’s of years
    prior to your first example.

  • ID researcher, Thanks for the comment. I gave some examples of ID theft in my video to demonstrate the historical progression and not to tell people how and when it all started. But since you have mentioned, why don’t you share with us your knowledge about the history of ID Theft? Why don’t you give us some more examples of ID theft recorded by history? Not only will my readers appreciate it, I will as well.