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The Skinny By Elaine Langlois

Identity Theft

Identity theft is the fashion crime of the 21st century. Before you know it, someone will be stealing your identity and walking around in your Manolo Blahnik pumps.

You are in a particularly dangerous position because there are people all over the North American continent who want to be like you. I mean, why wouldn't they?

How do you know if your identity has been stolen?

Perhaps you come back to your house and find someone else who looks just like you. She is chopping things in your Cuisinart and French-kissing your husband.

Or you might start to feel funny, as if you are coming down with a cold. You find yourself doing things you've never done before, like giving money to the poor, or picking up a book and reading it. You may notice physical changes, such as a difference in the way you walk.

Don't panic. Call your nearest government agency. See if it has the new gait analysis software the U.S. government is investing in for profiling terrorists. You might also ask the agents to check your irises and facial grooves.

For early detection, your best bet is the Identity Theft Monitoring Kit from Sharper Edge. It mounts to any wall and is powered by two C-cell batteries.

What happens when your identity is stolen?

Often, the first sign is unusual charges on your credit card bill, like trips to Mars. Most people don't catch this, however, because they never look at their credit card bills. They just make the minimum payment and go their merry way.

If someone gets your driver's license, they could drive your car. They could go to the ice cream shop and order a double chocolate malted, which would absolutely wreck your diet. They might eat bananas in your car and leave the peels under the seat. They could change all the buttons on the radio and mess with the cupholders.

An identity thief might open a checking account in your name and write bad checks. Very bad checks. Checks to environmental groups and orphanages. Checks to pudding fests. We just can't let this sort of thing happen!

How can you prevent identity theft?

The U.S. government provides a set of useful guidelines for guarding against identity theft. You can remember them from this simple acronym: BPGMOK.

BPGMOK. It's sort of like saying big mop after a lengthy session with your dentist. BPGMOK. It doesn't matter what the letters stand for, just so long as you remember them.

Don't tell anyone your birthday. Not just the year, but the exact date as well. In fact, you should probably have several birthday parties for yourself scattered over the year. That way you will get more presents!

Cut down the number of credit cards you carry with you to eight or ten.

What else can you do to prevent identity theft? Don't take anything with you when you go anywhere. Better yet, don't go anywhere. Stay home. Wear a wig. And a mustache. And your housecleaner's clothes. Try speaking in a foreign accent.

How do identity thieves steal your identity?

It used to be that they shoved you into a phone booth, snatched your identity, and sped away. But there aren't that many phone booths anymore, what with everybody talking on cells, so they've had to change their tactics.

Now they come to your house, at night, mostly, when everyone is asleep. They go dumpster-diving through your trash; they slip through broken windowpanes and holes the squirrels have gnawed in the attic. They make off with your Starbucks receipts, your tooth whitener, your knockoff designer fragrances, your highlighted collection of Cosmopolitans-anything they can use to counterfeit your identity.

If you've been a victim of identity theft, what should you do?

You probably need to transmogrify yourself into someone else. Try to pick someone with more money, a better figure, and lots of clothes.

Better yet, what you need is a secret identity. One that nobody knows, not even you. You will also need a secret headquarters (maybe have a decorator come in and redo the laundry room), a cape and mask, a decoder ring, and a batpole.

Identity theft can be very traumatic. But you have the power to turn it into a life-affirming experience. Think of it as an opportunity to rediscover yourself. To proclaim your identity to the world. To purchase every monogrammed product you can lay your hands on.

What's it like, getting your identity back?

It's painful. It has to be sewn on, like Peter Pan's shadow, and believe me, he was being brave when he clenched his teeth and didn't say it hurt.

© 2003 Elaine Langlois