For many years after I officially stopped practicing law, I kept up my law license. Dutifully, I attended Continuing Legal Education classes and paid my attorney tax and Bar dues each year.
Occasionally, I questioned the wisdom of keeping up the Bar Card, particularly after receiving a letter at my home from a prisoner in the Texas penal system seeking my “help” (given that I practiced Environmental and Immigration law it’s likely my “help” most likely would have resulted in this individual facing a life sentence for a five year offense).
Still, with the economy and my continuing ambivalence about going back to law practice, I kept my Bar status active. For years, except for laying out money for a tax that really didn’t apply to me and overpriced CLE courses, I didn’t see much of a problem with this approach.
That was until a few months ago.
One afternoon, I returned home to a message on my answering machine from a woman in Illinois who works for one of those companies that loans money to people against future legal judgments they’re likely to collect. She wanted more information about my “client,” Laurie Thompson.
Not only didn’t I have a client named Laurie Thompson, I don’t have any clients and haven’t had for years.
I called the woman back. We talked in circles for quite some time trying to figure out who was who and what was going on. Part of the confusion stemmed from the fact that I’d always kept my Bar membership in my maiden name. There was nothing nefarious about this. Many of the other female attorneys I knew did the same thing, since it’s a bit of a bureaucratic headache to make the change. In fact, one woman I used to practice with was married at least a couple of times after she received her law license. Given her propensity for marrying, I thought she made a sound decision.
After several minutes of conversation, I was finally able to explain to the woman calling me that I am both Monica Samuels and the Monica Leiter she was looking for. Still, I couldn’t quite convince her that I didn’t have a client.
“Do you have a website?” she asked me.
“Yes,” I replied, “It’s for my book, Comeback Moms.”
“No,” she answered, “Not that. Do you have a Leiter Law Office website?”
“Huh?” I said figuring if I just rolled over, I’d wake up. Surely, this wasn’t happening.
She directed me to the site. I opened it and instantly my jaw dropped.
There on the page, under the caption, “About Ms. Leiter” was a picture of a woman I didn’t recognize and in the first paragraph a perfect description of me . . . “graduated from the University of Texas School of Law in 1987.” Unless I’d really missed something those three years of law school, I was sure I was the only Monica Leiter who graduated there that year.
It didn’t take me five seconds after I hung up with the woman to call the State Bar of Texas.
“Someone is impersonating me and trying to scam thousands of dollars from a company in Illinois,” I explained as calmly as I could to the attorney with the State Bar. He’d never heard of anyone actually impersonating a real attorney. He suggested I call the FBI and the police.
Following his direction, I called both immediately. The Austin Police initially weren’t much help. From what I learned later, they receive about 13,000 identity theft cases per year and they have only a handful of investigators to look into these matters.
The FBI agent was more helpful. She took the information and within days opened an official investigation.
I also called a good friend who is an attorney in the Travis County District Attorney’s office. I graduated from law school with her.
First, I had to ask her.
“Did you happen to run into anyone else named Monica Leiter when we were in school?”
She assured me she hadn’t. Afterwards, through very much appreciated diligence on her part, the Austin Police Department also opened an investigation.
As the investigations proceeded, the plot as they say thickened. I tried to keep some sense of humor about it even though inside I was a nervous wreck.
After reading the description of the fake Monica Leiter’s amazing legal achievements, I told a friend in jest, “She certainly had a more successful legal career than I ever had.”
A little research revealed that the photograph that was supposed to be me was actually that of the Managing Partner of the Paris, France office of Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue. I shared that news with a good friend of mine who is a partner with that firm and who knows this woman. To say he was rather speechless as he looked at the website is an understatement.
There is more to the story that I’m not at liberty to discuss right now. What I do know is that investigators believe they know who did this. It’s evidently a criminal already wanted for similar crimes (what a surprise). One of the more joyful moments of my life was when the FBI gave me permission to call the phone number of the faux Monica Leiter and leave a message telling her that I am the real deal and her gig was up.
I share this entire sordid tale because of what happened yesterday.
As anyone who knows me is aware, my technological skills are more attuned to operating a telegraph machine than to society’s recent advances. Because of that, I’ve feared Twitter. Just the other day, however, inspired in part by the fact that I wanted something to do while other people are tweeting while I’m supposedly having lunch with them, I decided to bite the bullet and give it a try. If the Pope could do it, so could I.
I signed up (@MonicaLSamuels) and sent out a test tweet. The next morning I woke up to find that my account was suspended. To read the suspension notice at the top of the page, you’d think I’d just been busted for treason.
For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what I’d done. How do you lose your privileges after just one tweet? Then it dawned on me that my tweet was directing people to my blog post a couple of days before where I discussed a website called Chicks on the Right who’d had their Facebook page temporarily suspended for posting a thought inconsistent with Facebook’s Standards Policy. By tweeting this, had I violated a similar Twitter policy?
I immediately appealed my suspension by throwing myself at the mercy of the Twitter court. I wasn’t sure what I could have possibly done, but I was sorry.
As it turns out, the account was suspended because I’d supposedly opened up multiple Twitter accounts, and they wanted to know what I intended to use them for and which one I wanted to keep.
I responded that I only opened one, so that’s the one I want. I’m since reinstated, but I’m afraid I’ve taken a big step backwards in my fear of Twitter. Likely, the next tweet anyone will see from me will be something to the effect of “Doctor doubts I’ll make it. Please check obituary for funeral arrangements.”
In the meantime, I’m going to try to get to the bottom of all these other accounts supposedly opened by me. Sadly, once you’re a victim of identity theft, you’re a victim the rest of your life. You can never be sure that there isn’t more damage the criminal has done to you.
I write this to urge all of you out there to do everything in your power to protect your identity.
Don’t become another Monica Leiter.