Woman allegedly stole ID of missing person

February 4, 2008 3:34:43 PM PST
A woman allegedly used a missing person's ID to get federal aid to pay for college. For two years federal authorities have been tracking Esther Reed. In the summer of 2006, the U.S. Secret Service got a tip that the woman was using someone else's identity.

Federal agents allege Reed stole more than $100,000, which she used to attend Columbia University, in an extreme case of identity theft that involved financial aid. The 29-year-old is charged with mail and wire fraud and false identity documentation and identity theft.

She is accused of taking the identity of Brooke Henson, who has been missing from Travelers Rest, South Carolina, since 1999. The police chief of Travelers Rest believes Reed found Henson's information online, but is eager to talk to Reed about the disappearance.

On Saturday, a Tinley Park police officer spotted Reed's Subaru at a local motel. After discovering it belonged to a woman wanted by the Secret Service and U.S. Marshal, Reed was arrested.

"We are working in conjunction with the local, state and federal law enforcement agencies," said Yvonne DiCristoforo, U.S. Secret Service.

The Secret Service investigates cases of identity theft when losses exceed $25,000.

In Chicago, the Electronic and Financial Crimes Task Force works on ID theft cases. Yvonne DiCristoforo, who heads the Financial Crimes Unit at Chicago's local Secret Service office, said it often takes victims a while to spot the theft, which gives thieves times to take advantage.

"Typically, a victim will not even know until 30 days past when they look at a credit card bill," said DiCristoforo.

The Electronic and Financial Crimes Task Force is made up of officers from the Illinois Attorney General's Office and the Illinois State Police. DiCristoforo recommends people keep up on their credit and finances by using online resources.

"It's the availability of now. People can go and check their credit card statements and bank statements every day or every other day? and they are being notified immediately if someone is using their information or taking over their accounts," said DiCristoforo.

Reed appeared in federal court briefly Monday. She is being extradited to South Carolina by U.S. Marshals.