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How easy is it to change your identity these days?

June 27, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
How easy would it be for you to change your whole identity and begin a completely different life?

The Seattle Times had an interesting story a few days ago about Lori Ruff, a Texas woman who committed suicide three years ago, leaving behind a toddler daughter. When her well-to-do ex-husband and his family began going through her things, they discovered a locked safe filled with clues to a past they'd never known about.

It turned out that Ruff had stolen the identity of a 2-year-old girl who died in a fire in 1971 and used the child's birth certificate to get new identification. She legally changed her name to Lori, earned a GED, attended college and graduated with a business degree and eventually met and married her husband, at a ceremony attended only by the preacher, the bride and the groom. She told a fertility doctor she was 35 when she began treatment to try to have a baby, but the private detective who is investigating the case thinks she might have been several years older than she claimed since she had a great deal of difficulty having a child. Her husband's family thought her behavior was extremely suspicious, since she refused to talk about the past, didn't socialize with them or many others in her small town. Her husband, who sounds like he has some issues of his own and is heavily dependent on his family, didn't ask her many questions. Eventually, her husband tired of her dislike of his family and divorced her. Lori suffered from depression, had some sort of breakdown and eventually took her own life, leaving a lot of unanswered questions.

The private detective the family hired checked the usual places and so far has been unable to turn up evidence that Lori was wanted for a crime or on the run from an abusive husband, which would seem to be the most obvious conclusions. Not surprisingly, the Social Security Administration has joined in the investigation, probably because they're alarmed at how easily this woman succeeded in falsifying her identity.

How many other Loris are still out there? How many might belong to terrorist cells or be foreign sleeper agents? Back in the 1980s, it was still possible to request a stranger's birth certificate and use it to start a new identity. Kids often didn't have Social Security cards until they were teenagers and began working. I didn't have a Social Security card until I needed one to apply for a learner's permit when I was 14. So, when "Lori" applied for her first Social Security card at the supposed age of 18 or 19, no one would have batted an eyelash. In this age of heightened security and computer databases, I doubt it would be as easy to change one's identity. Still, I might be surprised.

The story ran June 22 in the Seattle Times and would be well worth a read.


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