Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: The other me is tall, slender, athletic, smooth and very much a fraud

My, but how I’ve changed.

Same name. Same driver’s license. Or at least a driver’s license with the same home address and same expiration date.

Same day, same month for my D.O.B., with just a single digit altered in the birth year. Not that I mind being 27 again.

Something else about this new, not necessarily improved version. This me is black. I know this because when the counterfeit Grimm bought a $22,260 gold chain from Grace Gold, a jewelry kiosk in the Lauderhill Mall, the prudent merchant photocopied the license. The face in the license photo definitely did not hail from Pineville, West Virginia.

I asked the Lauderhill jeweler, John Yu, to describe my doppelgänger. Yu looked me over, comparing me to Fred 2.0. “Much taller,” he said. “Like a basketball player.”

Another kick to the gut. Bad enough that I’m dealing with credit card theft, but after going through life as a frustrated 5-foot, 9-inch basketball player, I’ve had my identity appropriated by a fraud who John Yu estimated was closer to 6-feet, 9-inches. And as far as hoops, Yu figured the fake me was the real thing.

Yu added that the counterfeit me was very skinny. “Thanks John,” I thought, “You just had to throw that in.”

On May 22, I had written a column about Florida’s ignominious first-in-the-nation ranking for fraud complaints. And how the Federal Trade Commission had ranked the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach region as the No. 1 metro area, by a considerable margin, in the dark art of ID theft.

The column was inspired by some mysterious someone, armed with my name and address and D.O.B. and Social Security number, who had applied for several new credit cards in my name. The column was written too soon.

Last week, statements from my actual long-standing credit card accounts showed up in the mail. With $87,127.18 worth of new purchases.

Credit card usurpation has become the nuisance crime of modern times, as ubiquitous and unsurprising as back in the day when miscreants were forever busting into our cars and ripping out the eight-track players. Except tape players couldn’t be pawned for 87 grand.

It has become so common, so inevitable that it seems nearly impersonal, this notion of someone running around with my ID, maxing out my credit card accounts. The day after my fraud-laden credit card statements arrived in the mail, the Internal Revenue Service admitted that hackers had filched the personal information of some 104,000 taxpayers, including several years of tax returns.

After last year’s giant data breaches — credit card info of 70 million customers stolen from Target computers, another 56 million compromised at Home Depot — the IRS hack seemed like small beer.

The credit card company promised to cover my disputed charges (meaning we all pay, through higher fees). For a victim like me, it’s mostly a theft of time and patience, negotiating the Bank of America telephone menu to get to the fraud department. Going over the credit card statements. Filling out forms. Explaining that, no, I had not used my Visa to purchase a $29,960 watch from Starvin Marvin, a jewelry outlet in Aventura, on May 9, and then returned to Starvin Marvin three days later for a $19,999 splurge — this time charging the bling to my MasterCard. This other me has some gaudy tastes.

“It’s amazing what these guys can do,” Starvin Marvin, AKA Marvin Neuman, told me. He said he had copied both the fake driver’s license and the credit cards, which he declined to show me, wary of the legal implications. So I described the tall, black and — yes — skinny impersonator who had purchased the thick, gold chain in Lauderhill last week and asked if that sounds like the same guy. “I’m not saying yes. But I’m not saying no,” Marvin said. “I hope that helps you.”

The tall skinny me also ran up $14,475.50 in purchases at Apple stores in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton. He charged $65 at two different gas stations in Hallandale. He gets around.

South Florida credit card thieves famously employ digital skimmer devices on gas pumps or get the info from accomplices at restaurants and retail outlets. But in my case, I had never used the MasterCard. Never bothered to peel the little tape off the front or call the 1-800 activation number. This thief not only managed to get the MasterCard activated, but finagled a replacement card.

The info theft must have occurred at some higher level than some sneaky bartender, taking advantage of beery, impaired me at closing time or through some other point-of-sale shenanigan. But it’s a mystery. A very pricey mystery.

“I don’t know what else I could do,” said John Yu, shaking his head, worried that the fraudulent charges might come back on him, though it was the Bank of America that issued this faker my credit card. “He had that ID. He was very smooth.”

Very smooth. Very tall. Very skinny. Very young. Decked out in flashy jewelry. Says something about how easy it is to pull off credit card fraud when a guy like that can pass for me.