As a Boston journalist tirelessly pursued the woman who stole her identity, she discovered that the wheelchair-bound, elderly culprit was nothing like she’d imagined.

Linda Matchan, a correspondent for the Boston Globe, noticed a mysterious $5,000 withdrawal from her checking account in June 2022. 

It was nestled between other transactions in her bank statement and might have been easy to miss, but Matchan immediately grew suspicious.

The money had been taken out of a Bank of America branch in Saratoga Springs, New York, hundreds of miles away from her home in Greater Boston.

‘In experts’ lingo, I’d entered the “identity crime ecosystem,” a mix of theft and fraud,’ Matchan wrote in a May 15 recounting of the events in a Boston Globe Magazine cover story.

Linda Matchan, a Boston Globe correspondent, lost $5,000 after a New York woman assumed her identity

Linda Matchan, a Boston Globe correspondent, lost $5,000 after a New York woman assumed her identity

The journalist traced the theft to a bank in Saratoga Springs, New York (pictured), where she learned the woman had used a fake driver's license with her name on it

The journalist traced the theft to a bank in Saratoga Springs, New York (pictured), where she learned the woman had used a fake driver’s license with her name on it

She noticed that her debit card had moved to a different place in her wallet and began to worry that it had been tampered with.

Matchan attempted to stop things from spiraling further out of her hands. She closed her bank account and opened a new one, changed her passwords and froze her credit.

Upon filing a police report, the journalist learned that her information could have been compromised in other ways.

One possibility was that she’d passed her debit card through a skimmer, a device frequently installed by fraudsters at ATMs, gas pumps and elsewhere to accumulate card numbers.

Regardless of the mechanism, Matchan had more pressing issues to worry about, as she would soon learn that a stranger had a driver’s license with her name on it.

The reporter grew frustrated with Bank of America’s ‘lack of urgency’ as she fought to get reimbursed. She was repeatedly told that the bank was still investigating, a process that could take 60 to 90 days.

On August 20, 2022, the journalist decided she’d reached her wits’ end and drove over three hours to Saratoga Springs. She filed a report at the local police station before heading to the Bank of America branch.

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The manager called the bank’s fraud department herself, but had no luck, as she was also told that the pending investigation could take months. After contacting a vice president in Albany, the stolen money was returned to Matchan’s account, over two months after the theft.

The reporter discovered she was one of the millions of Americans who fall victim to identity theft each year - and the thief, identified as a Bronx woman named Deborah, had a checkered criminal past (file image)

The reporter discovered she was one of the millions of Americans who fall victim to identity theft each year – and the thief, identified as a Bronx woman named Deborah, had a checkered criminal past (file image)

Sarasota Springs Police issued a judicial subpoena and obtained a surveillance video from the bank weeks later.

While Matchan herself was barred from viewing it, an investigator said it showed an older woman leaning on a cane as she presented a photo ID and another card to a teller, who procured $5,000 in cash.

‘In my 18 years as a customer with the bank, I’d never withdrawn that much cash,’ Matchan professed. ‘Also, I’m over 65 — technically an “elder” — and I knew from my previous reporting on elder exploitation that this should’ve sent up red flags.’

Police identified a Bronx woman named Deborah as a suspect, though Matchan declined to share her surname out of ‘potential retaliation.’

Deborah was arrested on July 7, 2022. However, this wasn’t her first offense – she was a career criminal with a record stretching back three decades.

This included assorted drug and prostitution charges and a forgery charge in 2019, followed by a string of bank fraud offenses.

In April 2023, the woman ventured into a Citizens Bank branch in New Rochelle, New York, where she brandished an ID bearing another woman’s name and walked out with $3,500.

However, a bank employee grew suspicious and called the account owner to confirm that she’d made the withdrawal herself. Lo and behold, she hadn’t. 

Two days later, Deborah returned and tried to withdraw $4,000; she was recognized and arrested, but failed to appear in court that May to be arraigned. A bench warrant was issued for her arrest

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On July 5, the woman was sentenced to five years’ probation in Orange County for a 2019 offense. The development came just two days before her arrest in connection to Matchan’s case.

On July 8, Matchan faced the fraudster in Saratoga Springs City Court. Deborah was hustled into the courtroom in a wheelchair, having been transported several hours upstate from a jail in Westchester County. 

The journalist described her as ‘looking frail and haggard,’ with tangled hair and hands ‘clenched’ in her lap. ‘She looked much older than a woman born in 1956, her birth year,’ Matchan wrote.

Deborah was charged with grand larceny in the third degree and identity theft for assuming the reporter’s identity and withdrawing $5,000 from her account.

As she was wheeled away, Matchan recalled, she spoke without making eye contact. ‘I’m so sorry,’ the woman whispered. ‘I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.’

Matchan headed back to the courthouse the following month for the next hearing. However, Deborah was nowhere to be found, and she didn’t show up for a November court date, either.

Matchan learned that she had been released from custody following a guilty plea in Orange County Court, under New York State’s bail reform statutes.

Last year, people reported losing $10.2 billion to fraud, according to the Federal Trade Commission (file image)

Last year, people reported losing $10.2 billion to fraud, according to the Federal Trade Commission (file image)

Deborah still has an outstanding arrest warrant stemming from offenses in August 2022.

The woman was accused of fraudulently withdrawing over $3,000 from a bank in East Fishkill before attempting to cash a bank check one town over with a fake Pennsylvania driver’s license.

The elderly woman was arraigned on the East Fishkill charges, which are still pending.

However, she never appeared in court for an attempted grand larceny charge because she was in the hospital for injuries resulting from an attempt to flee police.

Matchan explained how the ordeal has impacted the way she moves through the world.

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‘I’ve gone from being a trusting person to a very suspicious one, always on high alert,’ she wrote.

In her pursuit of justice, which consumed two years of her life, ‘I’ve probably spent more than $1,000 to chase the $5,000 I lost. It’s the only way I could combat the helplessness I’ve felt by being violated so flagrantly.’

The reporter is just one of millions of Americans impacted by identity theft each year.

In 2021, roughly 23.9 million people had been victims of identity theft during the prior 12 months, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

And last year, people reported losing $10.2 billion to fraud, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The agency received 5.7 million fraud and identity theft reports, 1.4 million of which were identity theft cases. And of these, 395,948 reports concerned government documents or benefits fraud.

While individuals may carry out identity fraud, thieves often link up to form a fraud ring. Matchan said police suspect Deborah was a member of such a syndicate.

Investigators are clued in when identifiers like first and last name, date of birth and social security number are paired with varying phone numbers, addresses and emails.

The fraudsters who obtain this information may use it themselves or sell it to others. This may be done on forums, by word-of-mouth, or through encrypted messaging apps like Telegram. Some thieves use information that is not associated with a real person, in what is known as synthetic identity theft.

As Matchan wrote, there are still plenty of unknowns in her own case.

‘I’ve learned that an arrest in an identity fraud case does not necessarily bring closure or a sense of relief,’ she explained.

‘I’ve experienced more frustration and more fear — a measure of the complexity of this ecosystem, and the speed with which it mutates, along with this country’s inadequate and uncoordinated approach to tackling it.’

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