Nearly two months after Peggy Farnsworth’s purse was stolen, the Tempe woman didn’t dare wonder how things could get any worse. Identity thieves had drained her accounts for $12,000 in fraudulent purchases plus another $8,000 in fines for nonsufficient funds.
Farnsworth, 33, dreaded picking up the phone and checking her mailbox in fear of more bad news from financial institutions. There were sleepless nights and crying jags.
And then she was victimized again.
In mid-March, a friend called Farnsworth and asked whether she had seen a small crime story in the Tribune — a story that said she had been arrested on suspicion of identity theft.
“It threw me off quite a bit,” Farnsworth said. “I didn’t think anyone could be arrested and released under a false name.”
But that’s what happened. According to police, the suspect — Crystal Star Wright — produced Farnsworth’s driver’s license when being booked into jail, and authorities were none the wiser because the two look strikingly similar. She was released the next day and remains on the loose.
“It really frustrates me that she was right there in her hands and they let her get away,” Farnsworth said.
Identity theft experts say this is not an uncommon occurrence.
“Financial fraud — when somebody is opening up new accounts under your name, and they’re not paying the bills and soiling your credit — is a hassle, is a nightmare, is a violation,” said Robert Siciliano, CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com. “But when somebody is actually posing as you, committing crimes as you ... to me, that’s the scariest part of identity theft.”
Wright, 29, now is wanted on a number of counts, including suspicion of giving false information to authorities. During her time as “Farnsworth,” Wright was booked on four counts of forgery and identity theft.
Police said Wright was posing as Farnsworth on March 18, when she went to a Chandler Wal-Mart to pick up merchandise valued at $1,250. The goods were alleged to have been ordered with another stolen identity, this from a Tempe woman whose tax documents were stolen from her mailbox, said Chandler police spokesman David Ramer.
But authorities were ready, and Wright was taken into custody. It was then that she identified herself as Farnsworth.
Ramer and Sgt. Bryan Cox, supervisor of Chandler’s financial crimes unit, said Wright produced to authorities’ acceptance a valid form of ID, and it came back clean. Wright was fingerprinted, but absent of anything alarming there was no obvious reason to hold her for longer than usual.
Not until a few days later would a national fingerprint database find a match between “Farnsworth” and Wright.
“We have checks and balances in place ... and I would say they did work,” Cox said. “We did get (a match).”
By this time, Farnsworth had cleaned up almost all of the financial mess created by the thieves. The only thing she truly lost was time, which had been spent on the telephone pleading with her bank and filing “affidavit after affidavit,” she said.
The Federal Trade Commission estimates Arizonans spent almost 1.2 million hours trying to restore their credit and their names after identity thefts last year.
Just when she felt relief that the repercussions were tapering off, the news of Wright’s arrest and release created a new round of doubts.
“Until she’s under arrest or in jail, I will not believe that it’s going to stop,” Farnsworth said.
Authorities describe Wright as white, 5 feet 6 inches to 5 feet 7 inches tall, 170 to 190 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes.
Farnsworth is confident she will one day confront this similar-looking yet not similar-acting woman in court.
Has Farnsworth thought about her reaction during that face-to-face moment?
Farnsworth’s reply was at first halting, then disjointed:
“She will get her just reward. ... Everyone that knows her knows they can’t trust her, and if they don’t they’re fools not to. ... She thinks that because it’s all paper, there’s no (harm).”
Farnsworth’s words came to a stumbling halt, and she said she couldn’t explain her feelings. But then she found the words:
“It’s a lot of anger, a lot of anger I don’t usually carry.”