Forty-four years ago, Nathan Laskoski died and was buried in a Texas cemetery before he had even reached the age of 3 months.
But late last year, Nathan’s aunt was perusing Ancestry.com to track down information for the family tree when she clicked on a link that startled her.
Nathan Laskoski wasn’t dead at all, according to the website.
He had been married twice, lived in multiple states and, the family learned after more research, was issued a Social Security number in Texas in 1996.
Nathan’s mother, who had never applied for a Social Security card for her son, reported the suspicious discrepancies to the Social Security Administration.
This week, after a lengthy investigation, federal authorities announced that a fugitive named Jon Vincent had allegedly stolen the baby’s identity decades before after escaping from a halfway house in Texas.
Authorities found Vincent, 44, in Lansdale, Pa., and charged him with one count of Social Security fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. If convicted, Vincent could face prison time, a three-year period of supervised release and a fine of up to half a million dollars.
Vincent remained in jail Wednesday, when a federal magistrate set his arraignment date for May 2.
The man’s federal public defender, Felicia Sarner, said in a statement that he never meant to cause pain for the Laskoski family.
“Mr. Vincent was a very young man when this matter first arose, and he deeply regrets the poor judgment he exercised back then and the distress this must have caused the decedent’s family,” she told the York Dispatch in Pennsylvania. “His conduct has not resulted in any financial loss, and throughout all the intervening years, he has not been in any trouble with the law and has lived a quiet, hardworking life.”
That life, as Nathan Laskoski, began in 1996, according to court documents, when Vincent fled the halfway house where he had been sent after a conviction for indecency with a child, reported the Associated Press. In search of a new name, Vincent visited a Texas cemetery and read the headstones there, seeking a name with a birth date near his own.
Vincent was born in August 1972. Nathan was born in October 1972.
Around the same time, Nathan’s mother (neither the aunt nor the mother are named in court documents) told investigators she remembered receiving a “strange” phone call to her home. The caller, she said, asked questions about her son and his Social Security number. She answered some, but the caller hung up when she asked her own questions.
The woman called police, she told investigators, who told her it was likely a scam. No further action was taken.
Between then and 2017, authorities allege that Vincent used Nathan’s identity to live in Mississippi, Texas, Tennessee and Pennsylvania; marry and divorce two women; obtain driver’s licenses; open bank accounts; secure student and automobile loans; and apply for many jobs.
Social Security records show that he earned income across multiple states under Nathan’s name every year since 1996. Investigators also discovered that Vincent had obtained a nurse’s aide license in Pennsylvania that expires in 2018.
This type of identity theft is called “ghosting.” While obituaries, rather than tombstones, are usually the source of information for ghosters, the IRS reports that some 2.5 million deceased individuals have their identities stolen each year. Generally their information is used for financial fraud, to get credit cards, open cellphone accounts or to sell to others for such purposes.
No figures were readily available on the use of ghosting to live a new life under someone else’s name.
AARP recommends, among other things, notifying the Social Security Administration of any deaths in the family.
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