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May 16, 2019 John Wechsler

History's Most Famous Cases of Identity Theft

Woman with ling hair in a blue shirt and glasses reading a book on a balcony outside

National Biographer’s day is a day best spent reading the enthralling life stories of some of history’s most notable people. But most importantly, it’s about appreciating and honoring the men and women behind the biographies themselves. Without these biographers, we would have little insight into the minds of those who created our past and forged our futures, both good and bad.

In honor of National Biographer’s day, we put together some of history's most famous cases of identity theft. Instances where identity thieves were able to write an entirely new life story through fraud and deception.

1. Martin Guerre

Born a French peasant, Martin Guerre married Bertrande, the daughter of a well-to-do family, and after eight years together they had a child. Sometime during their marriage, Martin was accused of stealing grain from his father and fled town and his family in 1548, never to be seen again. That is, until a man named Arnaud du Tilh walked into town and up to Bertrande, claiming to be her husband and father of their child. Overcome with joy, Bertrande was convinced her husband had returned! Arnaud had such a striking resemblance to the real Martin Guerre; even his four sisters believed he was truly home.

“Martin Guerre”, aka Arnaud du Tilh, lived three years with Bertrande and her son, even having a child together, but the townspeople were always suspicious. Their suspicions eventually culminated in a trial against the imposter after “Martin Guerre” tried to claim an inheritance from his newly deceased father.

The sentence was passed down, but Arnaud du Tilh appealed the verdict and almost convinced the court of his innocence at the retrial when at the very last moment, the REAL Martin Guerre emerged with a wooden leg and forgotten knowledge of the past. In the end, Bertrande and Martin’s four sisters attested that it was truly him, and Arnaud du Tilh was sentenced to death by hanging for adultery and fraud in September of 1560.

2. False Dmitry I

In 1591, Tsarevich Dmitry, son of Ivan the Terrible, was believed to be assassinated at the age of eight. However, years later, Grigory Otrepyev (False Dmitry I) and other later pretenders (False Dmitry II & False Dmitry III) came forth, claiming that they themselves were actually Tsarevich Dmitry, having survived the assassination plot.

False Dmitry I sold his lie by explaining that his alleged grandmother was aware of the assassination plot against him and placed him into the care of a doctor who helped Dmitry live safely in monasteries throughout Russia until his imminent return. False Dmitry I leveraged this story to gain supporters in Poland and Russia to eventually invade Moscow in hopes to reclaim “his” throne in 1604.

His invasion was unsuccessful. Shortly thereafter, the reigning Tsar of Russia died suddenly of illness, giving False Dmitry I the opportunity to yet again try to reclaim the throne. This time it worked. He became Tsar of Russia from 1605 to 1606, when he and his supporters were assassinated for their treason.

3. Perkin Warbeck

With the support of King Henry VII’s enemies in Ireland and across Europe, Peter Warbeck took on the identity of Richard Shrewsbury, the Duke of York and rightful heir to the English Throne. Although the real Duke of York was believed to be murdered as a young boy, Perkin Warbeck spun a tale that he in fact was able to escape the assassins and had been on the run ever since. (Are we sensing a common theme here?)

With large support, including the aunt of the real Richard Shrewsbury, Warbeck invaded England. The invasion was unsuccessful and Warbeck was captured as an imposter and executed by King Henry VII.

Has identity theft really changed all that much?

It may seem far-fetched that identity theft could go as far as it used to in the old days, but in fact, the ramifications that identity theft can have on the average person are far greater today than it ever was. Before modern identification, the only way you could prove who you were was your word.

Today’s identity thief doesn’t need to rely on sheer trust to commit fraud, because they have access to endless identifying credentials that pour into the dark web every day via data breaches. Within these depths may be your customers’ social security numbers, credit card numbers, bank account info, credit reports, tax returns, addresses, phone numbers, maiden names; the list goes on. If anything, defrauding and stealing someone’s identity is easier today in the digital age than it has ever been in history.

Fortunately, we also live in a time where we can be more prepared than ever to protect ourselves when identity theft occurs and swiftly deal with any consequences of becoming a victim of identity theft. Help your customers take control of their life story so they can better PROTECT IT.

Do not let someone else rewrite your customers’ life stories. Protect their identity with Iris Powered by Generali's identity and cyber protection services. Learn more today and request a demo.

Published by John Wechsler May 16, 2019