After ID theft, life ‘forever and ever’ intertwined with criminal’s

By Maks Goldenshteyn


BREMERTON — On a cool May night nearly seven years ago, a thin coating of dew settled over Jessica Smith’s Ford Focus, making it difficult for the car prowlers to peer inside.

They found what they were looking for while wiping down her passenger-side window, much like they had done to other cars parked at the Vineyards Apartments, near the Kitsap County Fairgrounds.

A shattered window put Smith’s khaki purse and the valuables inside within arm’s reach. There were credit cards, a checkbook and a military identification card issued to Smith because her father had served in the Navy.

Then a 20-year-old waitress, Smith discovered the broken glass the next morning. She found her server book and apron on the passenger seat covered in glass shards, but no purse.

Her thoughts fell on the $250 insurance deductible. And two weeks shy of her 21st birthday, she wondered if she’d be able to secure a new ID in time to celebrate at the bars.

Smith canceled her checking card with Kitsap Credit Union immediately, but not before someone withdrew a couple hundred dollars at a gas station.

Another week went by before she reported her Bank of America card stolen, an account she had forgotten about. By then, $250 had been withdrawn from the Port Orchard branch, with Smith’s now-expired military ID used to verify the thief’s identity.

Both banks reimbursed her for the losses and she thought it was the end of it.

But it wasn’t until Smith was pulled over for speeding four years later that she realized that was just the beginning.

The officer inquired about a felony.

“I’ve never been arrested,” Smith remembers saying.

“You have a felony.”

“For what? I’ve never been arrested,” she said.

“For someone who’s never done anything wrong, to have a police officer tell you have a felony, and to treat to you like a criminal, that’s really violating,” she said.

The only blemish on Smith’s record was a citation for minor in possession of alcohol. She entered a deferred prosecution agreement and was never convicted.

But when the Kitsap Sun requested a copy of Smith’s criminal history from the Washington State Patrol last week, an eight-page report belonging to a different woman was faxed over.

It belongs to the very offender who was caught with Smith’s military ID card a few months after her purse was reported stolen in 2004. Shown on the history are the woman’s six arrests, at least seven felony convictions and eight misdemeanors.

Smith said the damage inflicted on her credit led to bankruptcy. When filling out job applications, she endures the embarrassment of warning employers about what might turn up in a background check — and convincing them she hasn’t done anything wrong.

“I have to go through the trouble of saying, ‘you might find a felony on my record, but it’s not me.’”


More than a decade has passed since the first identity theft laws were established. While some experts attribute the increased awareness to an apparent decline in identity theft complaints, most agree that methods used to commit the crime have grown in complexity.

But not in the case of Jessica Smith, whose life took a turn after a simple car prowl.

In July 2004, two months after Smith’s car was broken into, the owner of a Manette restaurant reported that her business had been burglarized and that a business checkbook was stolen.

By the time authorities were notified, seven checks were forged and passed. Two of them were made payable to Jessica Smith, with her military ID number written on it.

A detective with the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office called Smith to ask about the forged checks. She told him she wasn’t involved.

In September of 2004, detectives learned that the checks were cashed at Clearwater Casino by someone posing as Smith while using her military ID card — one check for $646.79 and the other $1004.65. A third check for $574.50 also cashed at the casino was written out to Smith.

All three were typed and appeared to have been endorsed by the same person, according to a Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office report.

The crimes committed against Smith may not have been sophisticated, but they would complicate the rest of her life.

Four months after Smith’s purse was stolen, a woman claiming to be Jessica Smith was pulled over just before midnight while driving east on Sixth Avenue in Bremerton.

The state trooper noticed that the car’s back license plate was partially obscured by black spray paint.

A female driver told the trooper she had no identification with her. Asked for her name, the driver replied: Jessica Smith. The trooper asked for her middle initial and a date of birth, questions the driver answered correctly.

“She was very slow with her responses and appeared to have to think about her answers,” the trooper noted in her report.

But the Social Security number the woman provided didn’t match the one belonging to Jessica Smith. Further, the real Jessica Smith was 5 feet 5 inches tall and 21 at the time. The woman in the car looked to be in her mid-30s and was much taller.

The trooper asked for her date of birth again. The driver said she was born in 1981. The trooper asked for her age. The driver said she was 24. The trooper pointed out that if she if she was born in 1981, that would make her 23.

“Well, what I meant was I am gonna be 24,” the woman posing as Smith replied.

While questioning a second passenger in the car, the trooper spotted a large black purse on the back seat. A pocket on the outer part of the purse contained a military ID card. The trooper also found a number of new syringes and a small red baggie with a white powder residue — probably methamphetamines, based on appearance and smell.

There was also opened mail that never reached its intended destination.

The woman claiming to be Jessica Smith had a washed check in her pocket, further cause for suspicion. She told the trooper she had spilled a soda on the floor of a restaurant, and that’s when she found the check and took it with her.

She was arrested and taken to Kitsap County jail.

At 7:30 the next morning, she was booked. She signed the documents as “Jessica Smith” and listed Smith’s date of birth as her own. After her booking, the inmate was fingerprinted. The fingerprint card and pink disposition form — used to detail arrest information — were also signed by a Jessica Smith and sent to the State Patrol.

It wasn’t until four hours later that the Automated Fingerprint Identification System returned a match: the prints actually belonged to Barbara Reedom, a 34-year-old from Bremerton with a criminal history.

But by then, Smith’s name and date of birth had been processed by the State Patrol, irrevocably linking Reedom’s criminal past with Smith, said State Patrol criminal history manager Deborah Collinsworth.

“We certainly want those arrests to go quickly,” said State Patrol spokesman Bob Calkins, “because you don’t want to book them for DUI and run their finger prints and sit on them while they make bail and it turns out they’re wanted for murder.”

The name Jessica Smith now appears as an alias in Reedom’s criminal history, along with three other names she’s used.

Reedom could not be reached for comment.

While state law allows individuals to contest the accuracy of their own criminal records and even delete certain elements if warranted, Smith isn’t able to — the crimes aren’t hers.

“You could expunge that out of her file, but this person could use her name again and you’d want the linkage,” said Don Pierce, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

“Forever and ever, Barbara Reedom is going to be linked to Jessica Smith,” said Kitsap County Sheriff’s Deputy Scott Wilson. “There’s not a whole lot we can do about that.”


Incidents of criminal identity theft — when an individual lists another person’s name and date of birth as their own at the time of their arrest — has prompted agency officials to enhance an existing initiative for identity theft victims, called the Compromised Identity Claim (CIC) program.

Among the new tools is a letter from the State Patrol verifying that the individual is who they say they are. The agency is also offering a specialized ID card that carries the applicant’s information and thumbprint.

When someone requests Smith’s information, Reedom’s criminal history turns up instead. Calkins, the State Patrol spokesman, suggests that Smith create a new record for herself and add her fingerprints to the file. She’d have to drive to Olympia to do so.

“When someone runs that name and (date of birth),” he said, “they’ll get both names and will be prompted to say, ‘oh gee, one of these has a criminal record and one of these doesn’t. I wonder which one it could be?’”

People with common names are also often the victims of a compromised identity when individuals with the same name and date of birth commit crimes, Collinsworth said.

State Patrol officials couldn’t say how many people have been affected — the agency doesn’t track identity theft statistics.

While no central repository for identity theft crimes exist, figures provided by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office suggest a decline in the overall number of identity thefts reported in Kitsap County.

At least 48 identity theft-related crimes were referred to the county Prosecutor’s Office in 2002, the first year the county began keeping track. Last year, the number of cases fell to 14.

The FTC, a federal watchdog agency that collects information from law enforcement agencies around the country, has seen a 20 percent reduction in the number of complaints it received from 2008 to 2010. Officials aren’t sure what’s behind the decrease.

The most common type of identity theft in Kitsap continues to be the unauthorized use of someone else’s credit card, constituting 12.4 percent of the 1,156 complaints received from 2005 to March 2010.

Asked if identity theft may be in decline, Bremerton police Detectives Sgt. Kevin Crane and Rodney Harker are split — Harker has noticed a decline, Crane hasn’t.

Kip Branch, a detective with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon and president of the Northwest Fraud Investigators Association, warned against reaching any conclusions from the drop-off in complaints sent to the FTC.

When law enforcement agencies first started tracking identity theft a decade ago, they insisted on creating a separate case number for each incident, Branch said.

That practice overwhelmed the agencies, so they cut back to a one victim, one report system.

“We don’t see as many reports come across our desk as we used to, but in those reports, there are many more incidents,” Branch said.

While he’s noticed a decline in some identity theft activities, Branch says more complicated operations like skimming have emerged in their place.

That’s where suspects glean debit and checking account information from ATM machines by outfitting them with a tiny skimming device that captures data embedded on the card. A small video camera placed above the ATM keypad captures footage of pin numbers as they’re entered. Gas station card readers are also popular targets.

“When no one’s looking, they’ll grab their equipment and take off and hit another machine,” Branch said.

The data is often sold to buyers across the country or overseas. Thieves can encode blank cards with new information and use it to buy products.

Database intrusions are another example. Third-party payment processors working with major banks have database information stolen either by their own employees or hackers. That information is broken into chunks and sold online. Criminals can encode new credit cards with the information.

“It’s certainly out there,” Branch said. “You will hear far less about database intrusions because the financial institutions are not interested in talking about that.”

When Branch began assembling his interagency F.I.T.E Team — Fraud and Identity Theft Enforcement — in Washington County around 2002, an overwhelming majority of the identity thieves he encountered were drug users. That’s no longer the case.

“A lot of people organizing this are people using it as a business. It’s a different environment than what we had back then,” Branch said.


Reedom had been evicted from her apartment around the time of her arrest in 2004. During the eviction, deputies located several pieces of identification, Social Security cards and credit cards.

One of the IDs belonged to the victim of another vehicle prowl. Deputies also found a piece of paper with six names written on it, along with corresponding dates of birth, driver’s license numbers, Social Security numbers and addresses.

A day after her arrest, Reedom spoke with Kitsap County Detective Timothy Keeler in his office. The signatures on Reedom’s jail documents and the ones on the back of the stolen checks appeared to match, according to court documents.

Reedom told Keeler she got hold of Smith’s ID card at a party a week and a half earlier and claimed she had only used it once — while getting booked at Kitsap County jail.

Keeler asked about the matching signatures. Reedom said someone else must have endorsed the checks with a signature similar to hers. She denied passing the forged checks.

Reedom pleaded guilty to second-degree identity theft, three counts of forgery and unlawful possession of a personal identification device. On Oct. 7, 2004, she was sentenced to seven months in prison for those crimes. Two weeks later, she received a 50-month sentence for the narcotics violation and driving without a license. Reedom stayed in prison from Oct. 22, 2004 until Oct. 10 of 2005 — serving a shorter sentence because she agreed to participate in drug treatment.

The real Jessica Smith learned of her impostor’s identity when she received restitution papers in the mail.

In September, Smith decided to see if Reedom had a Facebook page. An older woman with a prominent gold crown on one of her front teeth stared back.

Smith, who now works at a beauty supply store and is attending cosmetology school, says much of the anger she once felt toward Reedom has dissipated.

But one of Reedom’s Facebook posts has stayed with her.

On Sept. 21, 2009, Reedom wrote: “Life is good! In college, employed, great friend, great kids, beautiful granddaughter, bank account (with a good looking balance) who could ask for anything more? Oh yea … Can’t wait for Friday Saturday and Sunday!!!!!!!!!! :) .”

“I would totally forgive this girl,” says the real Jessica Smith, “because everyone makes mistakes.”

“But I should be able to move on with my life, too.”


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