Fed Chief, Wife Are No Strangers to ID Theft

Last August, a thief stole the purse of Anna Bernanke, wife of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke
Last August, a thief stole the purse of Anna Bernanke, wife of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke (2007 Photo By Ted S. Warren -- Associated Press)
By Jerry Markon and Neil Irwin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, August 28, 2009

As Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke struggled to hold the economy together last August, he was distracted by a more personal financial problem: He and his wife were victims of identity theft.

Bernanke's brush with financial crime began when a thief stole Anna Bernanke's purse from the back of her chair at a Capitol Hill Starbucks on Aug. 7, 2008, according to court documents and a source close to the Fed chief. Inside were her leather wallet, four credit cards, $5 in cash and her checkbook, a D.C. police report said.

A week later, a $900 check from the couple's Wachovia Bank account was deposited at a Bank of America in Hyattsville.

George Lee Reid of the District was charged in D.C. Superior Court with identity theft in the depositing of the check. The case was later dismissed. But the deposit is now included in charges filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria against Reid and nine others, part of what prosecutors say was a nationwide identity-theft ring that has caused more than $2.1 million in losses to at least 10 financial institutions.

In a statement yesterday, Bernanke emphasized that anyone can become a victim of identity theft -- which law enforcement officials have long said is among the fastest-growing financial crimes. "Identity theft is a serious crime that affects millions of Americans each year," he said. "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 purse-snatching, which was first reported on Newsweek magazine's Web site, occurred during a month in which the financial system was fraying and Bernanke was working nights and weekends to develop plans to take over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Sources said he and his wife were reimbursed by Wachovia and suffered no additional consequences or losses. President Obama this week nominated Bernanke for a second term as the nation's top economic policymaker.

An arrest warrant was issued for Reid in the federal case in Alexandria, in which he was charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud. He has not been located, and a lawyer has not been appointed in the federal case, court records said.

Three people have pleaded guilty in the ID-theft scheme since the charges were unveiled in June. Court records said the conspirators stole personal identification and bank account information from hundreds of people, in states that include Virginia, Maryland and Florida, as well as in the District. They then often used the information to create counterfeit identification documents, impersonate victims and siphon money from their accounts, the records said.

Staff writer Keith L. Alexander contributed to this report.

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